At least that’s the headline CNN.com posted. Apparently, the Phoenix Goddess Temple was nothing more than a brothel. I don’t know if the oxymoronic nature of the headline was designed to attract hits, but let’s get this one thing clear – this place may have claimed to be a place of spiritual healing, but that doesn’t make it a church.
In fact, the first line is totally misleading, “A church called the Phoenix Goddess Temple…” Aside from the fact that “Church” is found nowhere in its title, this is another case of ignorant guilt by association. Just because a building or organization claims spirituality doesn’t make them a church. This begs the question, “What is a church?” Let me offer just a few cursory thoughts.
1. A church is a community in which Jesus Christ is both founder, head, and life. Buddhists don’t go to church. Neither do Muslims. Jews attend synagogues. Jesus Christ is head of His Church (not the Pope). Jesus is worshiped, depended on, and sought out in a church. No pastor, board, or leader can claim the position that only Jesus holds. As founder and head, the spirit of Jesus gives life to the community allowing its members to be reconciled to one another, experience unity, and mission together.
2. A church is the only organization that exists for its non-members. Contrary to popular practice, a church is supposed to make a difference in the physical community/neighborhood where it is found. As well, a church is an open and welcoming place that calls all people from every race and background to become better than they were when they got there. Amazingly, this only happens as the people die to themselves and surrender to the life-giving power of Jesus (see above). A church exists to be the living reminder of Jesus to its city and neighborhoods. Its mission and work is to usher in the kingdom of Jesus both in word and deed.
3. A church is a community marked by purity, compassion, and truth. Jesus Christ, as the head of the church, is presently working to purify his church (also described in the imagery of marriage – the church is called his bride). Thus, any place marked by sexual immorality or falsehood and deception is NOT a church.
4. That said, a church is not the building. You may go to worship and serve at a church, but the church isn’t there when the building is closed. We are the church, and we gather with the church at a previously agreed upon location (that happens to have church in its name) to worship Jesus.
5. A church is a community that has godly leaders (pastors, elders, deacons) who regularly open the Word and minister the grace of Jesus through various forms (sacraments, worship, relationships, compassion, etc.). These leaders are accountable to the members and the Lord Jesus to be above reproach (but open to correction).
6. A church needs to be distinguished from THE Church. Each church that fits the above criteria is a local expression of a much larger body. The Church is the worldwide, cross-denominational, manifestation of the glory of Jesus in the world to those who are not members (see #2 above). Thus, while we may do things a certain way in our particular locale, we don’t by any means prescribe that our way of worship is THE way that all followers of Jesus need to worship. The beauty of The Church is that there is such diversity around the unified goal of worshipping Jesus and ushering in his kingdom.
An unbelieving world doesn’t understand what the church is supposed to be. Any gathering for spiritual purposes can take on the designation of a church, but the Bible takes a different approach. The Church cannot be separated from the life of Jesus. I hope that you are part of one!