While the foundation and practice of the church is built on an unchanging foundation, we can’t deny that many things about the church have changed in the two thousand years since Christ’s ministry. Some things are improvements; some aren’t.
What do you think it was like to be a Christian in the days before church buildings? The earliest Christians met in homes or occasionally at the synagogues in Jewish towns. The catacombs became temporary shelters as Roman Christians hid from persecution, but the first church building that historians are aware of was constructed in the mid 200’s AD in the Syrian city of Dura-Europos on the west bank of the Euphrates River. It was first a house. The Christians knocked out the living room wall so that the building would accommodate the entire church in one room. Basilicas, monasteries, and cathedrals didn’t become popular until several centuries later.
These Christians certainly had less of a temptation to think of the church in the abstract – as the building or the location. There weren’t many “pew warmers” in those days before pews! We need to recapture some of what they knew-that the existence of the church has nothing to do with facilities on 2718 Church Street – but everything to do with the lives of eighty or so families in the Burns community.
We need to hear again Peter’s words to a persecuted church:
“As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:4-5) May we never forget our place – not in the church, but as the church!