The Temple in Jerusalem served many functions, but an important one for the rest of the human race, those who existed outside Israel and the Lord’s chosen people, was revealed in Solomon’s prayer in 1 Kings 8, when he dedicated the first Temple. Solomon’s words reveal how God’s presence in the Temple would draw foreigners to him, so that they might know also him and fear him.
Likewise, when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a far country for your names sake (for they shall hear of your great name and your mighty hand, and of your outstretched arm), when he comes and prays toward this house, hear in heaven your dwelling place and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to you, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and that they may know that this house that I have built is called by your name. 1 Kings 8:41-43
When mankind was separated from God by original sin, the inheritance of Adam, God eventually designated a place for man to approach him: initially the Tent of Meeting and then the Temple in Jerusalem. These physical structures had strict rules and requirements for theirs architecture and appointments.
However, after the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, mankind now had access to God, to the Throne of Grace. As Paul points out, the bodies of saved humanity had now become the Temple of God, the Holy of Holies where the Holy Spirit resides.
With this change, the concerns shifted from physical architecture to personal holiness. The theology also shifted from the requirements of separation and covenant to the requirements of communion and relationship. That is why Paul can argue in 1 Corinthians 13 that Godly love (agape/αγαπη) is the most important thing in our lives. Agape is the root of our relationship with the One with whom we have to do, since the sacrifice that love enabled is the root of our redemption.
So it is fitting that nowhere in the New Testament is there a discussion of sacred spaces. The focus is on holiness and accountability (personal and corporate), and our relationship with God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The places the Church met and worshiped were incidental, other than being in homes, where families get together. The real issue was the people who gathered together and their interaction with God.
In the Old Testament you could die for touching the Ark of Covenant or improperly entering the Holy of Holies in the Temple. In the New Testament you could get sick and die for improperly taking part in the Eucharist, for encountering the Son in the temple of your body in an improper way. The shift is complete, the space is no longer relevant.
However, ever since the Church came out of hiding it began to make a big deal about the places where we meet and worship. Over the centuries the Church has create extended theologies of sacred spaces to argue for this and that within the worship location, while in many instances neglecting the truly sacred space, the hearts of those within those worship spaces. In the end, the heart is the only thing that matters.
So where should our focus, our energy, our concern be as Christians? Should we concern ourselves with buildings and accoutrements, or the people that are in them? I will leave that question up to you and while you are considering your answer, read Matthew 6:19-21.
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Grace and peace.
See also Part I.