Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Why do we have the church building?

"In the process of replacing the old religions, Christianity became a religion."  Alexander Schmemann, teacher and writer

Bare with me here. I'm going to start a series (or at least hope to) that helps explain how we as a Christian culture ended up in buildings, sitting in pews or chairs, facing forward,  and listening to sermons each Sunday. Where did all our present "Christian" methods, rituals, schedules, events.. whatever you want to call them, come from? And are they Biblical? 

Do you realize that Jesus came to abolish temples, priests and sacrifices. He said so on more than one occasion. He called his followers temples of the Living God. Collectively, he called them the church. Nowhere in the New Testament do we find the terms church (ekklesia) refer to a building. It always referred to an assembly of people, not a place. You never went to church. You were the church.

New Testament scholar, Graydon F. Snyder states, "The first churches consistently met in homes. Until the year 300 we know of no buildings first built as churches."

In fact, as you read through the New Testament, you'll see that all of the epistles were written to home churches. Some have argued that Christians were not permitted to erect churches or didn't have the money, but this is simply not true. They chose to remain in homes. In fact, if a church grew too large, they would often knock down a wall or remodel the house to accommodate more people. Larger than that and they expanded into other home churches.

Although Christians had picked up some other pagan practices along the way, it wasn't until Constantine, emperor of Rome (285-337) came on the scene that things began to change.  After Constantine's questionable conversion to Christianity, he was determined to make the Christian faith legitimate.  In his pagan beliefs, that meant a sacred building, priests, and sacred rituals. So after 327 AD, he began erecting the first church buildings throughout the Roman Empire. In doing so, he followed the path of pagans in constructing temples to honor God (More on Constantine's pagan beliefs in a later post)

He named his church buildings after saints just as the pagans named their temples after gods.
He built church buildings upon cemeteries of dead saints because these places were considered "holy"
These early buildings were magnificent and spacious designed after Greek pagan temples with large basilicas which provided ample space for seating passive and docile crowds to watch a performance. And much like the Roman basilicas they possessed an elevated platform where the clergy ministered with a rail separating them from the laity. In the center of the building was an altar or altar table considered the most holy place in the building because it often contained relics of martyrs and because the elements of communion, the sacred bread and the cup sat on top.

The bishops and priests and "Holy" men sat behind the altar on  ex cathedra or thrones. The sermon was preached from the bishop's chair which was believed to hold the power and authority and was covered in a white linen cloth.

Interesting, don't you think? As I've been reading about this, it has brought several questions to my mind. Many of us were raised in Christian churches. We don't know anything else. It's what our parents did, and their parents before them. Church is just church. It's just the way things are and always has been.

Now, I'm not bashing church or church buildings at all. I still go to church. But all I'm saying is what if all these years we've been doing it wrong?

Information taken from Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola and George Barna


  1. Tuesday, May 22nd,
    "Morning, MaryLu."
    Very interesting read, and yes ... I knew that "we, the believers ... ARE the Church" (not a building).
    Wouldn't be at all surprised ... "if after all of these years we've been doing it wrong" ! Something to ponder, for sure.
    Thanks for sharing more history with us, and all of the facts.
    (Oh ... and P.S. -- in answer to your final comment from Monday's post ... I totally agree with it. It is often difficult to know/understand how someone is replying "on line" ... when you can't see their facial expressions or hear the comment being spoken in their voice. Thanks for replying.)
    Take care, and, God Bless,
    In Him, Brenda Hurley

  2. Wow, you have such thought-provoking posts! History is so interesting.

    I agree believers are the church, not an organization or building. I also think that if believers come together to pray, worship the Lord, study God's Word together and encourage one another, it doesn't matter where or what you call it. Whether in a garden, a house, a simple building or a cathedral, God wants us to come together in His name. He looks at our hearts, not the building we meet at. : )

  3. Yes, this is very interesting. My husband has read that book, "Pagan Christianity", too, so we've had several discussions on the whole topic as well. Oh, how I long for the church (the true church - the body of Christ) to get their act together. How nice it would be to freely worship our Savior as a body, in unity, where we are all equal in His sight. No one is elevated - by throne or platform (that's an interesting one!) - above the others. Where we all encourage, love, respect, and act as chidren of God. Where the traditions of the church denominations don't overshadow or overpower the way God intended... I'm rambling now...
    Sorry ... point is, GREAT post. ;)

    On a side note, know that I receive great encouragement here on your blog MaryLu - from yourself and from the regulars (a.k.a. Brenda and others!). Thanks to you all!

    I was given "The Blue Enchantress" for Mother's Day, but the givers of the gift didn't realize that it's book 2 in a series. So I get to make a little purchase for myself and get the other 2 books in the series. Brenda, I'll be joining you as you do your re-read of those books this summer! Good stuff! :)

    Have a great day ladies!

  4. Oh, and Cathy ... well said! I like the garden location ... :)

  5. Funny .... just finished re-reading "The Red Siren" yesterday; and today, have begun re-reading "The Blue Enchantress" ! You will love the three-set series, Caroline. Enjoy !!!

  6. What an interesting post! I am very interested in hearing how much modern day Christianity has been influenced by paganism.

  7. Hi everyone! Agreed, Brenda! We are the church! (and thanks for re-reading my Belles series! You're so sweet!(

    Cathy.. love the garden idea too. I just wonder how much more the church could do for others if we didn't have to spend so much on renting or buying or building church buildings..

    Caroline, your comment encouraged me! I, too, long for the church to be like it was in the book of Acts. I read that and see such a disconnect with our present Christianity! How else are we going to set the world on fire like they did? So glad you enjoy my blog! It helps to know people are blessed by it cause it does take up a bit of my time. :-)
    Thanks for reading my Charles Towne Belles series! Hope you like it. :-)

    Emma, stay tuned.. there's more to come!
    Blessings all!

  8. Thanks for the shout out on my book, http://www.PaganChristianity.org

    Just a note that Pagan Christianity isn't a stand alone work. It's only the deconstructive part of a series. The companion volume, "Reimagining Church," is the constructive sequel. The two books work together.

    You can check it out at http://www.ReimaginingChurch.org



    Psalm 115:1

  9. Thanks for dropping by, Frank! I didn't realize that Pagan Christianity was part of a bigger work. My desire is to post short pieces of information I learn from your book here on my blog weekly just to get the word out about your research. I don't think most Christians understand how far we have come from the true church. I know I didn't. I'm hoping it will open some eyes.
    Thank you for doing all the hard work, all the tough research, and then writing it down so others can know! Bless you..

  10. Some one said it dosn't matter what we call the place we worship in first of all Jesus said there is not a place to worship him in the true worshipper worship in spirit and truth. John 4;24., second the church is Christ BODY which he is the HEAD why compare Christ body to a building made of wood, bricks and cement etc. Thirdly The scripture say God will return for his church suppose when he comes back for his church to meet him in the air all the million of building we call church accend in the air and leave the true church standing by looking up saying '" I thought he meant us."The words that we speak are spirit and life. we have to be aware of what we say!!