“Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord your God at the place that He will choose…” (Deuteronomy 16:16)
“Jerusalem… to which the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, as a testimony for Israel…” (Psalm 122:3,4)
In the last post we looked at the Old Testament and saw how God had a specific purpose in mind for getting His people into the land of promise. Within that land there was a specific plot of ground upon which the Lord placed great significance. There He chose to dwell and place His name, and out from that mount He wanted to express Himself to the surrounding nations.
Ancient Israel, as you probably know, was divided up into twelve tribes. When Joshua first brought the people into the land each tribe was allotted a certain portion of the land as their inheritance. Within those borders the people of each tribe dwelt. But three times a year everyone who was able was to come to Jerusalem for the annual feasts. These feasts were to be a time of celebration, fellowship, and offering to God. No man was to appear before the Lord in Zion empty-handed. Rather, each family was directed to set aside the very best portion of the produce of the land they had reaped the previous year, and bring it to Jerusalem to display before the Lord and share with their brothers and sisters in fellowship.
All this was a foreshadowing of the church.
Also, we looked at how Jerusalem was set up as a unifying force in the life of the Jewish people. Three times a year the people came up to the Holy City as one man to appear before the Lord and show forth the testimony of God. That is what Psalm 122 indicates. Their gathering together each year on the Lord’s chosen ground was for the testimony of God! And as they caravaned to Jerusalem they would sing the psalms of ascent, such as Psalm 133: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters dwell together in unity!”
Furthermore, we noted that when the kingdom became divided after the death of Solomon, Jeroboam set up altars in the cities of Dan and Bethel for the express purpose of keeping his people from going to Jerusalem for the annual feasts, because he knew that if they did their hearts would be turned back to the Lord and he would lose his kingdom.
So then, Mt. Zion was God’s chosen ground. On it was built a city and a temple for the Lord. Out from that temple and city God willed to make Himself known. And Jerusalem was central in the plan of God, a vital factor toward the unity of the people.
Again, all this was a foreshadowing of Christ and the church. The land flowing with milk and honey represents Christ in His unsearchable riches. God’s goal is to get His people into the land, possessing the land, living off the produce which comes from their labor on the land. The temple represents the church, the fullness of Christ, which issues out of God’s people enjoying and applying the riches of the land toward its building. Then around the temple you have the city, where “thrones for judgment were set, the thrones of the house of David” (Psalm 122:5). The city represents the government and rule of God-His kingdom-which is brought into the earth through the church.
All this is getting a little ahead of the present conversation, though. The issue we are considering is the ground of the church. As the temple had a specific ground on which it was built, so the church has a specific ground on which it is built. It is very practical, yet very wonderful. We asked the question in the last post concerning what that ground is. Is it the house (as in, house church)? Is it a theological system or a denomination? What is it?
Every group of believers who come together do so on a certain ground. For some that ground is a particular doctrine. For others it is a specific style of meeting or form of government. For some it is a specific cause, while for others it is a certain demographic of people they hope to reach. Whatever the specifics, every group meets on a certain ground. The question is, what is the true and unique ground of the church? We know that the temple of old could only be built upon one particular plot of ground. When Cyrus released the children of the captivity to go back and rebuild, nobody entertained the thought of throwing up a new temple in Babylon, for the Lord had been very specific: only in Jerusalem, on Mt. Zion, was His House to be built. Even the proclamation from Cyrus to go and rebuild included the very specific injunction, “let the house be rebuilt on its site.” In other words, on its ground.
People in our day are starting “churches” left and right. House churches, campus churches, legacy churches, organic churches, you name it. Seems all you have to do is have a vision, get some people together, start teaching from the Bible, perhaps gain a non-profit status, serve the bread and wine, and there you have a church. The only problem is there is most likely another congregation of local believers doing the same thing just down the road, only with their own emphasis on truth that forms their particular center. Denominations and organizational divisions abound. Is this honoring to God? Is it really ok for there to be twenty different “churches” in the same city, all employing their own separate administration, fellowship, and life together apart from other believers just down the road? Rarely do we stop to ask upon what ground we are attempting to build the House of God. But it is a question worth asking, and scripture has not left us without an answer to this all-important inquiry.
So I leave you once more with the question: What is the ground of the church? And when I speak of the church, let it be clear that I’m not talking about the “universal” church. I’m talking about the local, visible, attendable Body of believers-the thing you can touch, taste, and feel. What is the true ground upon which a group of believers can come together and actually, rightfully claim the designation of being a church? Keep in mind that my interest in pursuing this question has nothing to do with finding out who has the most bragging rights-that is, who’s doing it right as opposed to who’s doing it wrong (far from it)-but rather to genuinely search out and discover what the mind and heart of the Lord is on this matter. Because if I read the scripture right, having a true expression of His church is a whole lot more important than most of the other things we Christians spend the bulk of our time and effort on.