When Temples Topple: God’s Unexpected Blueprint for Community

Open door with a glow of light through it from the outside

Back in January when we asked a friend (who lives in Wuhan) to officiate our wedding, we did not expect a virus outbreak to happen. We really didn’t expect this outbreak to affect the world the way it has, with some of us just now returning to limited church gatherings and others still waiting.

As we are navigating how, when—or if—to start gathering in-person for worship, many of us feel displaced. For those that have gone back, church looks a lot different than when we left it. The old normal seems like an increasingly distant memory.

The Israelites experienced something similar but to a much greater extent during their return from captivity. The temple that was supposed to be the center of worship for the God of the universe had been destroyed, and the Israelites were sent to Babylon. The books of Ezra & Nehemiah tell the story about their return to Israel. This return to normalcy was pretty anticlimactic, especially regarding temple worship.

But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy.

—Ezra 3:12

Those that wept probably had in mind the stories of the temple’s dedication where God’s presence descended into the midst of Israel’s assembly. Yet, this didn’t happen for them. Yes, they were back in their land, and, yes, the temple was being rebuilt. But this seemed like a far cry from God’s promise of establishing His kingdom of perfect peace over all the nations. This shadow of the former glory prompted the question of whether that former glory would ever return! One thing was for sure: the pre-exile days were over, and there was no going back.

But God had something greater in mind. After all, His covenant was not with a building but with a community of people. A few hundred years later, Jesus—God Incarnate—was conceived and born into the world. He is the true Temple. After His death, resurrection, and ascension, this new group of believers are revealed to be the place where God’s Holy Spirit rests and dwells.  It is through this community that God sets up His temple, and it is to this community He entrusts His kingdom. God has always intended His creation to be His cosmic temple, and us humans to work as priests within this ultimate temple. [By the way, the people at the Bible Project can tell a lot of this with much cooler imagery, and it is worth looking up!]

So, why am I talking about all of this temple stuff? It’s because it helps us understand where we are in this season. I do not believe God allows things to happen arbitrarily. He knew this pandemic would happen and disrupt our old normal way of doing church. Instead of trying to go back to the “former glory” or mourning its loss like the repatriated Israelites, we should recognize that we are moving from one kind of glory to another. God has something greater in mind.

God has allowed what can be shaken to be shaken, so what is unshakable remains (Hebrews 12:26-28). We have the opportunity to ask ourselves: “What is the Church without a building? Do we see the Church continuing to live and thrive? Did we put more trust in our temples/buildings/programs than in the Living God?” The Church is ultimately a community of believers. All we need is two or three for Christ’s presence and authority to be in the midst of us. For me, this has been a sobering reminder that I have maybe put too much emphasis on our centralized gatherings. Don’t get me wrong, I love being able to see believers together in groups, and I miss it! However, I fear I have leaned toward making the same mistakes the Israelites did. They focused too much on a physical center of worship and lost sight of the main mission, which was to be a light to the nations. The mission wasn’t to hoard God’s presence but to spread it far and wide!

A great irony for me is that being that light is what we try to emphasize at Outpost. Our groups are really meant to be a communitas (a temporary liminal gathering for the purpose of change) more than a permanent static community. Throughout Strive—our summer masculinity program for young men–we emphasize that the goal of healing is ultimately not for yourself, but so that you can return to your community as a good gift. And we have seen many men do just that. In fact, we have had four weddings of alumni this summer (my own included). Our mission is not to hoard what God is doing, but to multiply it.

Even as we think of more enduring communities, such as our local churches, we must realize that these are not meant to be permanent and static. Our Christian “temple worship” was never intended to be contained within four walls. Our churches—and our gatherings of even two or three—are ultimately transitional spaces leading into God’s Kingdom and the fullness of Jesus’ rule and reign over everything when He returns! We are the living Temple, and we are meant to grow and expand and see God’s presence spread across all creation and all spheres of society.

So when we think about community as Christians, let us not get discouraged by restrictions on how we meet or how long this will last. This is an opportunity to embrace a new kind of normal. A normal that truly realizes the priesthood of believers. A normal that fulfills our call to carry God’s presence to all people, all places, and all circumstances. That why we are called an Outpost. We stand at the farthest edges of the Kingdom, and we are seeking to expand that Kingdom into the hardest and darkest places of our world.

Voices Q & A: Leaving and Grieving

leaving and grieving

Q: What does the mourning process of leaving a gay lifestyle/identity look like? How can the Body of Christ help someone going through this process?

A: The process looks different for everyone because we all have our own stories. I personally had to mourn the loss of my friends and past boyfriends. My relationships were not healthy—destructive, even. But they were still driven by a desire to get my very real needs met—my needs for love, for affirmation as a man, for healthy relationships with other men, my need for community.

In my relationships, I was co-dependent, hurtful, and self-centered. It was a process for me to learn what healthy relationships look like. Over time, I chose to let go of those friendships and boyfriends. I went through a time of great sadness, knowing I wasn’t going to be hanging out with them anymore.

Additionally, I needed to create new memories and build new friendships. I also needed the space and freedom to just be sad. I needed to have safe opportunities when I was ready to talk about my sadness and how Jesus was meeting me.

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