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Church Structure

Historically, church appeared to people in different forms. A careful study, however, reveals design similarities that point to one common cause or Principle, and if any symbolic construction took place, it always followed some unmistakable enlightenment regarding God's relationship to His idea. As spiritual history has advanced, the structure has been identified and understood more scientifically.

Abraham saw church structure as a rock altar on a mountaintop with his son bound and prepared for sacrifice. Because he was willing to give up all human progeny - his personal fatherhood for God's Fatherhood - he was blessed beyond measure, and became the father of many nations as God had promised.

Moses was called to bring his congregation - the children of Israel - out of slavery in Egypt before he had any idea what the form of his temple should be. As he listened to the Lord, ideas of a structure came to mind that would help the Children of Israel discover God's nature and presence. Lit by an eternal flame, the Ten Commandments and manna within the Ark of the Covenant became the centerpiece of the Holy of holies, representing the center and source of all enlightenment; and the fresh and good showbread was intact, representing the all-sufficiency of spiritual supply. Only the holy were allowed to enter their portable temple, and those with a pure heart could feel the divine presence comforting them, meeting their needs, and leading them through the wilderness in preparation for the Promised Land.

Nehemiah conceived the idea of a strong continuous wall designed to protect and embrace the children of Israel. He successfully inspired and directed a community project where the people willingly fulfilled their assignments, valiantly watched against enemy interference, and agreed to defend one another.

Jacob saw a ladder reaching up to heaven with angels ascending and descending on it. This vision affirmed the holy nature of his intercommunion with God. Another time, Jacob wrestled with an angel's message and would not let the idea go until it blessed him. After discerning something of his spiritual identity and receiving his proper name, Israel, he built a rock altar memorial so that all who passed by would know that God was there. This spiritual awakening enabled Jacob to meet with his estranged brother, Esau, and repeat with great joy, "I have seen thy face, as though I had seen the face of God, and thou wast pleased with me" (Gen 33:10).

Esther was willing to sacrifice her royal position and power in order to preserve the worship of one omnipotent God. Quiet restraint, devout obedience, true integrity, and bold identification of the "wicked Haman" saved the Jewish people from extermination (Es 7:6).

Amos recognized that, since God is all-knowing, His creation must be ever-mindful of God's intentions. He declared, "Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets" (Amos 3:7).

Jeremiah foresaw church written in the hearts of men. "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: . . . I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people" (Jer 31:31, 33).

David had the wisdom to write, "Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it" (Ps 127:1). He prepared the way for God's temple to be permanently established as a structure that shall not be moved. David understood that God's law supersedes the whim of kings and exalted egos.

Solomon was ordained with spiritual insight with which to judge his people. He built the symbolic temple in Israel after a divine pattern and illustrated God's great love by governing without the fetters of war. Under Solomon's leadership, the people gave gladly and labored for a very long time before they saw the hallowed result of their effort. At the dedication, the glory of the Lord filled the temple as a cloud, just like in the time of Moses.

Mary saw the temple of the living God as the promised Messiah. She bowed to her vision of God's Fatherhood and fulfilled her mission - "Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel" (Isa 7:14). She brought forth her child in a humble stable or cave. There was no regalia there, no flowing phylacteries; yet it was safe and good enough for the best man who ever trod the globe.

Jesus identified the body of Christ as the temple of the living God.
He asserted that his church would be built as his students recognized the source and substance of the true Messiah: "Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matt 16:18). The holiness of his temple was apparent in every event of his sinless career: at the cross and open sepulcher, on the walk to Emmaus, in the house where he appeared in the midst of them, at the morning meal, and at the day of Pentecost. Each experience confirmed the God power that lay behind Jesus' words and works.

Peter first practiced his idea of church at the synagogue in Jerusalem converting the Jews and establishing Christian brotherhood and sisterhood, but from its earliest beginnings, the divinely founded church drew a diverse group of people from all nationalities and religions. As Peter grew spiritually, he learned that he should not call any man common or unclean and willingly taught in a centurion's house. Attachment to the things of this world was intense, as it is today, but because the people's hearts burned within them - radiant with God's grace - they were willing to impersonalize their possessions and face persecution without fear of consequences - "They loved not their lives unto the death" (Rev 12:11).

Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are" (I Cor 3:16-17).

Saint John saw the divine design of church from the pinnacle of understanding as already established. His New Jerusalem was all-inclusive, all embracing, and all good with no material counterpart; "there shall be no night there" (Rev 22:5).

Mary Baker Eddy gave us the following: "CHURCH. The structure of Truth and Love; whatever rests upon and proceeds from divine Principle. The Church is that institution, which affords proof of its utility and is found elevating the race, rousing the dormant understanding from material beliefs to the apprehension of spiritual ideas and the demonstration of divine Science, thereby casting out devils, or error, and 'healing the sick'" (SH 583:12). Mrs. Eddy proved her words by demonstration, understanding that she was the living institution of Truth and Love. She said, "As the discoverer of Christian Science, I am the bone and sinew of the world."1

You and I must come to understand that we also are the temple of the living God, and we must afford proof our utility. Long ago, Samuel heard God say, "I will raise me up a faithful priest, that shall do according to that which is in mine heart and in my mind: and I will build him a sure house; and he shall walk before mine anointed for ever" (I Sam 2:35).

1 Mary Baker Eddy Library, Emma C. Shipman's reminiscence pg. 17-18

George Denninger ©

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