For Morung Express Editorial
Jeremiah 7: 4. Do not trust in deceptive words and say, "This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!"
To the Jews, the Jerusalem temple was no ordinary building. When the first temple which Solomon built was dedicated, ‘fire came down from heaven and consumed the burned offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple” (2 Chron. 7:1).
But the Jews began to treat the temple building as a talisman, having magical powers which guaranteed their security. So, Jeremiah stood at the gate of the temple saying not to put their trust on the temple but to reform their ways and actions and deal with each other justly, so that they may live in the land. But the people wouldn’t listen.
The unimaginable happened in 587 BC when the Babylonians destroyed the temple and took the Jews captive. Not only did the temple crumble, their identity, hope, and false religion were crushed. They sat by the rivers of Babylon and wept when they remembered Zion (Zion, Jerusalem, and Temple were often used interchangeably).
Zerubbabel rebuilt the temple in 515 BC, but it was nothing compared to its former glory (Haggai 2:3). The splendor of the glory of God was missing. The longing of the Jews was that one day YHWH will come again and dwell among them. "The Lord you are seeking will come to his temple", (Mal. 3:1).
When Jesus came, he fulfilled the words of the prophets but by turning the expectation upside down. He told the Samaritan woman by the well, that the time has come when people don’t have to worship anymore in Jerusalem (John 4:21), because the One greater than the temple is here (Mat. 12:6). Paul brought the message home when he said in 1 Cor. 3: 16, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” Paul declares that believers are the body of Christ. God’s dwelling is not any sacred building or mountain. It is interesting to note that the early Christians worshipped in the Jerusalem temple until it is destroyed again in 70 AD.
So, when any sense of mythical power is removed from the Jerusalem temple, and the temple of God from now on is in the heart of the believer, what are Naga Christians trying to achieve by competing in building the fanciest church buildings? Are we trying to beat King Solomon? Who are we trying to please?
In Nagaland, we are going bonkers over church building business. It is irrational, irritating and hilarious. No form of justification can be found in the Bible, unless of course, we turn a blind eye to the condition of our congregation and are looking at some prosperity gospel preacher in some western country or envying the new fancy church building of that ‘rival’ tribal church nearby. One church even had the audacity to issue a resolution whereby salaries of all the government employees of that community will be deducted directly through the departments’ DDOs! The resolution was said to have been shot down due to too much resistance. But pressure tactics are always there demanding a month’s pay, one day wage, pledge cards, etc. after having made a sky-high budget for a fancy building which will be locked up for most days of the week.
‘It is the Lord’s house, it is God’s work, it is for God’s glory’, some may say, echoing the words of the Jews in the days of prophet Jeremiah. But when a budget is made, say, for a politician to donate 1,00,000 for the church building, where do you think the money is going to come from? From his pocket? You bet! And if you demand a month’s wage (1 out of only 12 months a year) from a grade IV government employee for church building, isn’t that cruel? When the completion of a church building becomes more important than the moral concern about where that money is going to come from, we have got our spirituality wrong. But when we get our heart and attitude right, there are ample solutions to the concern for finding a place of worship.
‘If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever. But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless. “Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe” – safe to do all these detestable things? Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the Lord (Jeremiah 7:5-11).