Is Church Physical?

Welcome to the ninth blog entry of New Direction, where we search the Spirit, Scripture and more discovering the New Direction God is leading his church in this post modern culture.  Today, we take a  look at whether the church is physical or spiritual.


Not very long ago, I sat at lunch, with a pastor.  We were discussing some deeper matters which, for reasons unknown to me, prompted him to ask, “Do you believe in the physical church?”  (Or something close to that).  At the moment… I answered, “Sure,” partly because the question came out of the blue.  I certainly believed that the body of believers gather together locally.  Regardless of how you define that, such a gathering would be visible by all who look upon it.

Fast forward a couple of months into the future, and I cannot say I would answer the same way.

Allow me to share with you a writing from Richard Burger on this very topic.

Physical and Spiritual churches defined:


In the early centuries of Christianity, “church” meant the community of all Christians. But in 1054, a split occurred between Christians in Western Europe and those in Eastern Europe and western Asia. The communities in Eastern Europe and western Asia became known as the Eastern Orthodox churches. —– The early Christians had no physical church buildings because they feared persecution from the Roman rulers. They met secretly in private homes and in underground passages called catacombs.

Taken from “The World Book Encyclopedia.”


a building set apart or consecrated for public worship especially one for Christian worship.

the ecclesiastical government of a particular religious group.

the profession of the clergy; clerical profession.

having to do with organized Christian worship.

Taken from Webster’s New World Dictionary

The physical, organized, Church ran by men:

churchThe above definitions define the physical, organized, Church run by men. The Physical Church is an organization located at a physical place. It is the building and furniture located in the building. There are usually rooms for offices with desks, phones, etc. There are people in these offices that are paid, or volunteer, to carry out the business of the physical organization. There is a leader (CEO) who is called by names such as Pastor, Bishop, Priest, and Pope. The leaders of the physical Church set up the doctrines of the Church for all the common people that go there. They are the leaders or rulers. The common people are there to support the physical church by their money, time, and voluntary service but they do not have a say as to the doctrines of the Church leaders.

The Spiritual church:

The spiritual church is not made with human hands It has no physical location. “””Nor does it have any physical business to perform. It is not of this world.”””

The Spiritual church is in the hearts of each and every child of God. The child of God has been born of the Holy Spirit and is no longer a physical part of this world. The person lives in a body of flesh but it is not his home. The following scriptures support my conclusions.

1 Pet 2:4-5 (NIV)

4 As you come to him, the living Stone– rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him–

5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

The true church is a Spiritual house. The church has this in common with the Jewish Temple of the O.T. in that it is the dwelling place of God on earth. But it is contrasted with the Temple, a physical, tangible, perishable materials. The church is a structure built of living stones.

John 18:36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.”

John 17:14-16 Jesus speaking  14 “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. 16 “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.

John 3:8 Jesus speaking  8 “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

I could go on, but I think the these verses suffice to make the point.  God’s ways are not our ways.  Man loves organization, buildings, hierarchy and most of the trappings that come with a physical church.  For, aside from the 40,000 denominations, other false religions have implemented most of the ‘physical church’s characteristics.  Yet, they have always failed to even grasp the concept of the spiritual church.  Why do we hold on so stubbornly to it?

crossRichard writes, “Man cannot control a Spiritual church. It exists in the hearts of God’s children and God sees into everyone’s heart.”  Since the beginning of time, as seen with the tower of Babel, man has tried to organize, grow big and conquer.  Perhaps this provides the thrust of motivation for centuries of organized Christianity, going as far back as the days of Constantine.

The founder of the “home church” movement in England, Canon Ernest Southcott, said it best:  “The holiest moment of the church service is the moment when God’s people—strengthened by preaching and sacrament—go out of the church? door into the world to be the church. We don’t go to church; we are the church.”

The church, therefore, is not a place. It’s not the building, it’s not the location, and it’s not the denomination. We—God’s people who are in Christ Jesus—are the church.

But what is a ‘spiritual’ church?  What does it look like?  We will take a look in our next entry of “New Direction”!

Richard’s writing, used heavily in this article, may be found at<>

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