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The Temple, The Church and The Believer

A chapter from Temples and Tithes

Most of the practices we have been looking at are associated with a "temple" structure. Tithes were to be brought into the temple storehouse, sacrifices and offerings took place there, children were circumcised by the priests there as Jesus was, and the various festivals, new moons and Sabbaths were associated with a temple and a system of priests. If a temple structure is still valid today and has passed on to the church then many of the practices or their "Christianized" replacements will pass on as well. This has huge implications for organized religion so it will help us no end if we have a look at the temple and the church in the New Testament and its relevance to the modern-day believer.

In the New Testament the term "temple" has a number of meanings:

(Matthew 4:5 NASB) Then the devil took Him into the holy city; and he had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple,

(Acts 19:35 NASB) And after quieting the multitude, the town clerk said^, "Men of Ephesus, what man is there after all who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is guardian of the temple of the great Artemis, and of the image which fell down from heaven?

(John 2:20-21 NASB) The Jews therefore said, "It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?" {21} But He was speaking of the temple of His body.

(1 Corinthians 3:16-17 NASB) Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? {17} If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.

(Ephesians 2:21 NASB) in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord;

(1 Corinthians 6:19 NASB) Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?

(2 Corinthians 6:16 NASB) Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, "I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM; AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE.

(Revelation 15:5-8 NASB) After these things I looked, and the temple of the tabernacle of testimony in heaven was opened, {6} and the seven angels who had the seven plagues came out of the temple, clothed in linen, clean and bright, and girded around their breasts with golden girdles. {7} And one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God, who lives forever and ever. {8} And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from His power; and no one was able to enter the temple until the seven plagues of the seven angels were finished.

The Earthly Temple And The Heavenly Tabernacle

Of these the basic "pattern" stems from the last one - the temple in Heaven. The earthly temple was a copy and a shadow of this.

(Hebrews 8:5 NASB) who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, "SEE," He says, "THAT YOU MAKE all things ACCORDING TO THE PATTERN WHICH WAS SHOWN YOU ON THE MOUNTAIN."

(Hebrews 9:23-24 NASB) Therefore it was necessary for the copies of the things in the heavens to be cleansed with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. {24} For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us;

Christ has entered into the true temple on our behalf so the old temple is obsolete and was demolished by Titus in 70AD. It has not yet been rebuilt though according to some it will be rebuilt as part of the end times.

Therefore we are residents of the heavenly realms, citizens of Heaven who can come before the throne of grace. Our High Priest has passed through the heavenlies and now ministers in a temple made without hands that is situated in the heavenly realms.

(Hebrews 9:11-14 NASB) But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; {12} and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. {13} For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, {14} how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

So we have moved from the copy and the shadow to the real thing. We do not need to go back to the shadows.

What Is A Temple?

From the verses at the start of this chapter a pattern begins to emerge as we look at a working definition of what a temple is and what that means for us now.

  1. A temple is a sacred site run by a priest.

  2. A temple is often associated with an image or representation of the deity.

  3. A temple is indwelt by the spiritual presence of the deity.

  4. A temple is where people go to meet the deity and to partake in rituals and other spiritual transactions.

The Temple Today

There is no suggestion in the NT that you had to go to a certain building to meet God or get the anointing. The early church did not have buildings. It certainly did not have a central building you had to go to in order to meet God.

So where do people go to meet God in the New Testament? They go to an apostle or to an evangelist or a Christian believer. You met God in the face of Jesus Christ. You got the anointing through the laying on of hands. The apostles proclaimed the gospel in markets, synagogues, and in chariots on desert roads. The gospel went out to the people. The people did not go in to a temple. The church was in mission mode and the temple was where the images of God were - that's us. Everywhere there was a Christian - there was a temple - a dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, an image of Jesus Christ.

The earthly temple in Jerusalem has been replaced theologically and demolished physically. When Jesus died the curtain dividing the Holy of Holies off from view was torn in two from top to bottom. This indicated that God was now accessible to His people. It also indicated the tearing of Christ's flesh and the making of a new way to God. (Hebrews 10:20) The old temple system with its High Priest was now superceded by the temple in Heaven with Jesus Christ as High Priest "according to the order of Melchizedek" (see Hebrews chapters 5-10)

People no longer meet God in a special physical location. People meet God through the ministries of the Church and through each individual Spirit-filled believer.

Priests In The New Testament

Temples are run by priests (that's part of the difference between a temple and a shrine). So who runs the temples in the New Testament church? We have seen that each believer is a temple, now we will discover that each believer is also a priest!

(Revelation 1:5-6 NASB) and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the first-born of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us, and released us from our sins by His blood, {6} and He has made us to be a kingdom,priests to His God and Father; to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Lets dig into this a bit more adding in some things we have learned in the earlier chapters.. We are vessels indwelt by the Holy Spirit and we are both temple and priest. We offer up sacrifices of praise, thanksgiving, doing good and sharing and our bodies are the living sacrifice.

Thus our bodies are sacred to God and are "sacred sites"! A temple is a sacred site and that is what you are. That body you see in the mirror is a temple, it is indwelt by God and sacred to Him. He does not want it used in sexual immorality or joined in marriage to unbelievers.

As priests we are to care for the temple and make sure that it is not defiled or unclean in any way - especially any defilement by sin! As priests we also represent the deity to a world that comes to us in its weakness needing mercy and help. We show Jesus to the world. There is a poem that goes "He has no hands but ours..:". We bind the wounds of the world in the name of Jesus Christ with our sacrifice of "doing good and sharing". We also minister to God in praise and worship with our "sacrifice of praise".

Priests and Prophets

If we are all priests then who leads? The style of Christian leadership changes dramatically between the Testaments. From central to dispersed, from ceremonial and physical to charismatic and spiritual, from institutional leadership to network maintenance and from top-down leadership to servant leadership. Lets look at some of these changes.

Servant Leadership

Priests in the Temple were organized into various castes and did various duties in a very organized and hierarchical fashion. The High Priest was an important political and religious figure. The scribes wore tasseled robes and loved respectful greetings in the market-places. It was top-down leadership. But Jesus said:

(Matthew 20:25-28 NASB) But Jesus called them to Himself, and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. {26} "It is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, {27} and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; {28} just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."

After Pentecost the apostles were not power bureaucrats with desks piled high with papers and a huge staff and efficient secretaries guarding them from intrusions, The reality was quite different and the startling fulfillment of what Jesus said above.

(1 Corinthians 4:9-13 NASB) For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. {10} We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honor. {11} To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; {12} and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; {13} when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now.

From Physical To Spiritual

The Aaronic (descended from Aaron) priesthood had purely physical qualifications as Barclay points out in his commentary on Hebrews.

"Every single regulation that governed the old priesthood had to do with the priests physical body, To be a priest he must be a pure descendant of Aaron. Even then there were one hundred and forty-two physical blemishes that might disqualify him. (Leviticus 21:16-23). The ordination ceremony is outlined in Leviticus 8. He was (I) bathed in water (ii) he was clothed in four priestly garments (iii) he was anointed with oil (iv) he was touched on the tip of the right ear, his right thumb and his right toe with the blood….Every single item in the ceremony affects the priests body---- From beginning to end the Jewish priesthood was dependent on physical things. Character, ability and personality had nothing to do with it."

The OT priests could be thieves or liars and still be priests. Being a criminal a philanderer or a drunkard was not a disqualification but a missing finger was. We might say that "oh we are not like that today" however famous sportspersons who are newly converted are often given ministry positions while more spiritually qualified people are left on the shelf. Worship leading in some churches goes to the good looking and most presentable. Tall pastors are often more respected. The dominance of physical qualifications is still with us in some areas of church life. Also worldly qualifications - wealth, many degrees and secular status influence perhaps a majority of churches.

However in the New Covenant physical and worldly qualifications are totally absent from the required qualities of a leader. New Testament leadership was on the basis of a real encounter with Jesus, a good character and demonstration of the Spirit and of wisdom. They should be of good character, able to teach, full of wisdom and the Holy Spirit, and so forth in the various lists in Acts, Timothy and Titus. Leadership was not a popularity contest but rather given to those who had the character to happily be a servant of all.

From Central To Dispersed

The top leadership of the church - the apostles, the prophets and the evangelists were highly itinerant in their ministry. An early church document, one of those that almost made it into the Bible, called the Didache, says that a sign of a false apostle was that he stayed more than three days in the one place! We should take such extra-biblical documents as the Didache simply as historical sources, but it does tell us that the church expectation and experience of apostles was that they were itinerant leaders. Unlike the top priests they did not have offices in the Temple and could not be reliably found in the one place. They traversed Europe, the Middle East and the apostle Thomas may have gone to India.

Spirit-filled New Testament leadership looked nothing like a corporate executive yet it did an amazing job of changing the world. Clothed in rags, going hungry, imprisoned, beaten and poor they wandered the world as the scum of the earth and the off-scouring of the world with nothing but Christ in their hearts and the power of the Holy Spirit backing their message (see 1 Cor 4:9-13 above). Whether you were in Corinth , Ephesus or Rome one day Paul would appear, half-sick, perhaps a bit the worse for wear with his unimpressive appearance and speech that was contemptible (2 Cor 10:10) and talk until you fell out the window (Acts 20:9). But he would change your life and the life of your church. He would heal the sick, raise the dead and explain the gospel. (Romans 15:18,19, 2 Corinthians 12:12)

Denominational leaders in gray suits with large cars and air-conditioned offices are a far cry from this. We admire those who move at the impulse of the Holy Spirit yet in time we seem to always go back the Temple precincts and establish ourselves. The Franciscans were at first itinerant poor and joyous now they have a massive bureaucratic headquarters in Assisi that I have heard described as looking like the Empire State building lying on its side. We celebrate these brave itinerant leaders and decorate their tombs but promptly build offices for ourselves. This is not Christianity, it is temple religion, worldliness and pompous egotistical nonsense. We need to get back on the trail. Denominational leaders should be on the move and out there with the people and the churches.

From Institutional Leadership To Network Maintenance

Peter and Paul and Timothy and Titus and James did not sit in various offices in Rome or Corinth and issue order to subordinates who came in with Gantt charts of the latest Kingdom building project. They didn't run the show or exert much hands on day to day detailed control at all. They preached Christ and they build believers into effective and connected networks. I have done some very interesting study on how Paul used his greetings at the end of his epistles and how they are far from random at all. That is for another book though. They were concerned with the spiritual condition of a fairly loosely woven network of believers not the operational details of a massive organization. This may at first seem a subtle distinction but it has huge ramifications which I will explain further.

A network leader operates on the "nodes" in this case the networks of churches. The "church that was in Corinth" was probably itself a local network of house churches. So we have the house church (Romans 16:5, 1 Cor 16:19) which belonged to a local area network of churches "the church in X" (1 Corinthians 1:2) which belonged to a regional network such as "the churches in Asia" ( 1 Corinthians 16:19) and finally to the body of Christ as a whole.

(1 Corinthians 16:19 NASB) The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Prisca greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.

The basic unit seems to have been the house church. Apart from the above verse we have the following references

(Acts 8:3 NASB) But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house; and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.

(Romans 16:5 NASB) also greet the church that is in their house. Greet Epaenetus, my beloved, who is the first convert to Christ from Asia.

(Colossians 4:15 NASB) Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea and also Nympha and the church that is in her house.

(Philemon 1:2 NASB) and to Apphia our sister, and to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:

(Acts 20:20 NASB) how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly [when he was at the school of Tyrannus] and from house to house,

and so forth. Churches as major buildings did not appear for a century or so afterward and did not become common until after the Edict of Milan in 313AD. The house churches were not isolated however from the mainstream. Today some house churches can be small groups of grumpy and disaffected believers who have abandoned the mainstream church and decided to lick their wounds together. They can get quite eccentric. That was not the case in the NT. Now and then an apostle, prophet or evangelist would drop by and give some teaching, correct the errors, pass on greetings and even take up a collection for some starving Jewish believers in Jerusalem. There was real life and common teaching in the network. The little I have seen of YWAM bases and their connected communities makes me think that it is not too dissimilar to the NT model .

In a network of communities and house churches leadership is personal and charismatic and dependent on the ministry being real and potent. Stagecraft and crowd manipulation are less effective in the intimacy of a living room. You are there in real relationship and part of the community, you are seen close up.

Apostles kept these communities to a common doctrine and a common lifestyle and encouraged real relationships between believers building unity between factions in the one city, and even internationally. There were no manuals, it was incredibly personal. They tended too operate face to face and few left any writings that have survived.

(3 John 1:13-14 NASB) I had many things to write to you, but I am not willing to write them to you with pen and ink; {14} but I hope to see you shortly, and we shall speak face to face. Peace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friends by name.

What I am trying to say is that the apostles were not bureaucrats and that bureaucracy is not Christian and that ecclesiastical structures and bureaucracy is sub-Christian. Never do we see apostles worrying over church finances or launching funding drives or micro-managing church affairs or designing logos for the pew bulletins. Leadership was not about that - it was about people and churches and networks and the truth of the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit and LOVE.

What It Looks Like

Instead of a big shiny building, full of priests that quite literally "put God in a box". [The Ark of the Covenant was a large wooden box covered in gold] we have a dispersed collection of called out ones meeting from house to house, breaking bread and listening to the teaching of the apostles.

What does this new reality look like? If there is no building. If its always in mission mode. If its sharing Jesus on the streets, binding up the wounds of lepers, praising God in the bathroom and interceding for the lost. What does it look like? And whose in charge? And how can I know whether I am up or down, important or unimportant? Now don't get me wrong there is nothing intrinsically wrong with church buildings - we do have to meet somewhere out of the rain! Though as you can guess I am very sympathetic to home churches and renting school halls. But how do we escape becoming an institution? After all no-one wants to live in an institution!

Lets start with a central tenet - it DOES NOT look like the temple in Jerusalem. Its not run by a human high priest with a host of priests and acolytes and altars and incense and animal sacrifices and rituals and robes (see Hebrews chapters 5-10). Neither does it look like the temples of idols. It is it not a mad pagan frenzy. A Bacchanalian orgy of rolling around drunk and unrestrained. Nor is it run by young girls in white singing in ecstatic possession. No, God is a God of order! (1 Cor 10-14). The new temple is neither Jewish nor Greek -it is Christian and heavenly.

The new temple looks like the ministry of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the pattern of what a temple of the Holy Spirit looks like and acts like.We don't find Him setting up an institution or expecting everyone to come to Him (though they did). We find a huge variety in His pattern of ministry. Sometimes solitary, often in home fellowships, now and then in large gatherings. A mixture of teaching and healing, training and prayer. A mixture of apologetics against the Sadducees and miracles with madmen. There is an enormous sense of freedom and healing and life in the gospels and that is part of the operation of the temple of the Holy Spirit - "for where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty". The temple of the Holy Spirit should be a place of liberty and personal transformation.

(2 Corinthians 3:17-18 NASB) Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.{18} But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.

Where you go, as a temple of the Holy Spirit, there should be liberty, healing and personal transformation. There should be a sense of freedom and joy not legalism and oppression. A temple of the Holy Spirit does not look anything like a Pharisee. Similarly where you as a church impact your community there should be increased liberty, healing and personal transformation not just a railing against "those worldly sinners" - who Jesus befriended! (Luke 7:34)

When we are so transformed that out of our innermost beings flow rivers of living water - then we will be like Ezekiel's temple out of which the river of life flowed. We will look and act like the ministry of Jesus. We will minister on hillsides and in the wilderness and everywhere the Lord sends us. When Jesus was a temple He was a very mobile temple - more like tabernacle! Perhaps we should be like that too!

The new temple is also a BODY. The temple is now the body of Christ and the body of the Christian. As a body it is a picture of co-ordination, of unity and diversity , of life and action. (1 Corinthians 12:1-11) It is primarily a living thing. It feels, it rejoices, it is filled with the very life of God. It is filled with prophets and even the servants prophesy and speak in tongues (Acts 2:17,18, 1 Cor 14:31,32). Dead works and cold formality and inappropriate. New wineskins are needed to contain the new wine of the Holy Spirit.

(Luke 5:37-38 NASB) "And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins, and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined. {38} "But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins.

In a living organism there are no spectator parts. All parts of the body contribute to the whole. The liver is not a spectator to the ministry of the brain! So in the church there should be no spectators unlike in the old temples where there were priests and laity, performers and spectators. This distinction is gone in a body. Everyone has a function. Indeed everyone must function in their role whether it be great or small. Current large church, building centered structures simply cannot do this. There is only so much room "on stage". Only one or two people can preach each week. A few give items. The rest must watch on. This is not the new temple. It is the old temple. And it is thoroughly unbiblical. NT worship was participatory (1 Corinthians 14) and al brought a psalm or a prophecy, a tongue or a teaching. It was not left to a few experts.

So the new temple is a Spirit-filled, sacred body that reflects the ministry of Jesus Christ and brings liberty, love and personal transformation to the world as it befriends sinners and moves out into wherever the Lord sends it to minister the living waters of God. That doesn't sound like bricks and mortar to me!

A Gentle Warning: The Anti-Christ and the Temple

In one verse in Thessalonians the Anti-Christ seems to be at home with "temple structures". He indeed he eventually makes his home there.

(2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 NASB) Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, {4} who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God,displaying himself as being God.

This gives us a warning that such sacred structures are not immune from the influence of evil at the very top. Lets be clear here, I am not saying that temple-structure churches are the Anti-Christ or that any structure is the Anti-Christ. God is more interested in people and hearts than structures. What I am saying is that Temple structures suit the Devil. That is where he wants to be. His ego loves the pomp, the ceremony, the exaltation, the glory that belongs to God alone.

But why the Temple? "Temple structures" are pyramidal with a single individual at the peak of them and such structures promote envy and selfish ambition as people jockey to be as close to the top as possible.

(James 3:15-16 NASB) This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. {16} For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.

According to James jealousy and selfish ambition are demonic wisdom from below. They result in disorder and every evil thing. If Satan can get jealousy and selfish ambition going in a church through their competitive structure then he can generate " disorder and every evil thing". This is why humility and unity are such potent spiritual weapons.

The other corrupting influence in large hierarchical organizations is money - or rather the "love of money" which is "the root of all kinds of evil". (1 Timothy 6:6-10). Since large "temple structures" tend to be wealthier they tend to attract those that love money to a far greater extent than say a communal house church movement tends to. This is especially true in the upper echelons of large ministries.

Thus large pyramidal, hierarchical temple structures tend to promote envy, selfish ambition and the love of money - the three things that Scripture says unleash "all kinds of evil". The Devil sometimes comes into such structures and "takes his seat" at the top of a "priest eat priest" (or minister eat minister) pecking order. The history of the medieval papacy is a striking example of this where popes held lewd banquets, acquired vast lands and many concubines and even murdered their ecclesiastical rivals while persecuting genuine believers. Envy, selfish ambition and the love of money had created a "wisdom" that was political, treacherous, scheming and demonic and which defined the upper layers of the Roman Catholic Church. Evil triumphed through the spiritual flaws in a pyramidal structure combined with the inherent weaknesses of human nature.

Now, let me very quickly say that providing that there is unity and humility and simplicity of lifestyle ANY structure can potentially be used by God - even very hierarchical ones. Small groups and "brotherhoods" are not immune from error because of their better structures and can go seriously off the rails. Even they are not perfect. There is no perfect structure that ensures that everyone will be absolutely holy. However I feel that some structures create more trouble than others. Temple structures were demolished by Jesus for a good reason and will be inhabited by Satan in the end times - also for a good reason. Temple structures are not the Anti-Christ but he is often happy to dwell in them.

What are the consequences for today?

  1. New Testament temples are bodies not buildings. They are not bricks and mortar structures.

  2. Therefore there are no temple storehouses to bring tithes into.

  3. We don't have to go into a building to meet God or get an anointing.

  4. There are no special people called priests who run the physical sacred sites.

  5. We are all priests and we all run our own temples - our body.

  6. We are all part of a larger temple called the body of Christ.

  7. The paraphernalia of the Temple - altars, incense, robes and sacrifices and offerings and all the rest - goes the way of the Temple. We have no mandate at all to reconstruct the old temple worship, Jewish or pagan, in an effort to bring structure to what we do.

  8. The NT temples are dwelling places of the Holy Spirit and where the Holy Spirit is there is liberty therefore they should be characterized by freedom and grace.

  9. The perfect dwelling place of the Holy Spirit is Jesus and the perfect temple (church or individual) should reflect His earthly ministry.

  10. The temple is a body, a Spirit-filled, well coordinated by Christ, participatory community of various spiritual gifts that brings glory to God..


This article may be freely reproduced for non-profit ministry purposes but may not be sold in any way. For permission to use articles in your ministry, e-mail the editor, John Edmiston at johned@aibi.ph.