Luke 17:20–37, Acts 7:44–60, Revelation 21:14–27 (read online ⧉)
Throughout the Old Testament, there are memorial stones. The names of springs have tale-telling names. Altars were built…lots of altars. Places provide identity. The Promised Land (Israel) was one of identity. That particular land was powerful enough in its name and history that there are still fights involving it among differing “tribes” and religions (and each’s myriad of sects).
A place will often develop a mythos or multiple ones. Think of the United States. There is the American Exceptionalism mythos. There is the American Colonialism mythos. There is the American Slavery/Segregation mythos. There is the American Dream mythos. There are plenty more American mythoi that aren’t listed. Some are held as (or more) firmly than religious beliefs. Some are feared for what they might represent. Regardless, they all revolve around a place.
Jesus made a radical statement regarding the Kingdom of God. The Pharisees and many other Jewish groups were looking for something tangible, which mostly revolved around the restoration (in some form) of an independent (and probably wealthy, secure, and powerful) Jewish nation, with some sort of Davidic monarchy. Jesus basically told them that they are looking in the wrong place.
Some scholars interpret this as Jesus stating he was the Kingdom come, while others look at it more along the lines of the kingdom being withing the people. We Christians often call this being the church.
Stephen, who was martyred, reminded those that were about to stone him that God does not truly live in buildings built by human hands. The building, it seems, is more for us than God. The passage in Revelation says there will be no temple. Think of that. There will be no temple, no church, no chapel, no alter. It will not be needed.
We need to be honest with ourselves. We may say things such as, “the church is its people,” or “the people are the church.” However, when it comes right down to it, we gravitate toward needing a place. That place could be a park, a house, a (gasp) bar, a school, a cafeteria. We think this as obvious, now, but it wasn’t that long ago (truly) that people opposed holding a church service in a school. When the house church movement was reignited in the US over a decade ago, “established” churches said that house church wasn’t real church.
The next “you can’t have church there,” argument is here. It’s actually almost past now, though people still hold onto it. It’s not possible, it is said, to have church over the internet, for the internet isn’t “real”. Even die-hard netizens often use IRL (in real life), so it seems even for them there is a struggle. As virtual reality goes mainstream, the concept of the internet as a rectangular screen will disappear. So, what are we to do? How will we treat those who don’t sit in our pews, but worship with us from 1000 miles away? Are they not the church? They don’t have a connection with us? Even those who, for various reasons, have moved or are moving away, but this is still their church home? Does someone stop being your family just because you only see them on Facebook, and haven’t seen them in years?
1) When we talk about church and place, what are the important things to consider?
2) What makes “place” more or less real to you? How do you deal with people who have a different idea of place?
3) What makes a place (such as a church) more “real” than the internet which is a gathering of people at a whole bunch of places? Is that a “real” difference, or is it what we are used to?