Today we’ve grown accustomed to associating “the church” with the building that a particular church inhabits on Sundays and during the week. And, it is true that a church’s meeting space does determine a lot of what the church is able to do in terms of programming. Winston Churchill once said, “We shape our buildings and thereafter they shape us.” But the church is not a building. And yet, architectural imagery is crucial to understanding what the church is!

One way the Old Testament uses the word “house” is in the literal sense to refer to the literal tabernacle, tent the Israelites built at Mt. Sinai and then carried around in the wilderness. It was their meeting place with God; it’s where they kept the ten commandments and the ark of the covenant. The tabernacle was God’s mobile house, literally. Later, the Old Testament uses the word “house” to refer to the permanent home of God, the Jewish temple built by Solomon in Jerusalem. That temple was God’s palace. So one way the Old Testament uses the word “house” is to refer to the physical, literal structure made out of physical materials, the tabernacle-temple-house.

The other way the Old Testament uses the word “house” is in the metaphorical sense to refer to the “house of Israel,” that is, God’s people as a nation; God’s covenant community. So there is the tabernacle-temple-house and the people-house.

And, the point, the design of the physical tabernacle-temple-house is to function as a symbol of the people-house which is the true residence of God. So God dwells in the tabernacle and temple as a symbol of the fact that he dwells in the midst of his people.

In the New Testament, John the Apostle picks up on this architectural imagery and uses the Greek term for tabernacle to describe how God dwelt (literally “tabernacled”) with us in the person of Jesus. No longer is the tabernacle a tent in the desert (John 1:14). Now, God has taken humanity upon himself in the incarnation and now dwells among us.

And since we are all united to Jesus Christ by faith we are also the continuation and extension of the body of Christ. God has dwelt definitively in his incarnate Son but because we are also united to Jesus God dwells in us too. So we are being built up as a temple with Christ himself being the chief cornerstone. 

Paul the Apostle in his Letter to the Ephesians also picks up on this architectural imagery that the church is the temple in which God dwells. “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22),


Our church is NOT the Cornerstone! Jesus is the Cornerstone. We are one church defined and built on him who is our foundation.