Posted by: rogermitchell | April 29, 2011

katargesis (iii): the end of the temple

This post is the third on the apostle Paul’s use of the word katargēsis. The first investigated his use of the word to describe the way that Jesus’ life and death brought and end and fulfilment to the law. The second extended his use of the word to the way that Jesus brought an end to sovereign rule, and this post now suggests that it can be applied to the way that Jesus brought to an end the role of the temple. It is not that everything about temple was bad, but that in Jesus it is now over.

By the word temple I refer to any particular building, such the Jewish temple in its various guises from Solomon onwards, which is regarded as the special dwelling place of God as distinct from the creation as a whole, and therefore a more appropriate location for connecting with God. The importance of such a special place for meeting with God also suggests that those forms of behaviour deemed necessary for relating to God are best carried out there. This tends to reinforce both the sense of a special holy place and the importance of those particular activities.

This application of Paul’s use of katargēsis to the temple is quite straightforward in the context of the New Testament. The testimony of Jesus in the gospels and of Stephen in the Acts (Acts 7:44-51) indicates that God cannot be contained by a temple and does not really like such places. His readiness to fill them with his presence is out of love for his people who desire such locations, and it was never his intention to maintain this connection in the long term. Jesus’ demonstration in the temple, as the earlier post on the subject makes clear, gives God’s verdict on the entire temple system, and the ripping of the veil at the time of Jesus’ death confirms it. Both the containment of God in a temple and the religious sacrifices made there came to an end and completion in the incarnation.

Even more than the end of law and monarchy, this ending of the temple is very difficult for many contemporary Christians. This is because the expectation of temple worship has persisted in our understanding of what it is to be the ecclesia of God. As a result the life of the ecclesia has often functioned around a special meeting place, and the means of connecting with God have revolved around temple type activities, even if there is an apparent rejection of religious buildings and paraphernalia or meetings take place in halls, schools, hotels or homes. However if there is something important in Jesus bringing the temple to an end and completion we need to understand what that was about, and while particular customs and places of meeting may not be all bad, it is vital to identify and remain true to Jesus’ intention.

The idea that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection marked the katargēsis of the temple puts a strong emphasis on the forty days of Jesus’ resurrection life on earth before the ascension and during which Jesus taught the disciples about the kingdom of God. It is the responsibility of the ecclesia to seek the kingdom of God in and through the whole creation. This replaces the temple focused location and behaviour of the people of God. For those of us who see our primary responsibility as equipping the ecclesia into its full maturity, it is this reorientation to the kingdom that is our priority and challenge. The good news of the kingdom is for all people, and includes no requirement for to them to connect to any temple or its related activities. The ecclesia is defined by the work of the kingdom of God in the world and not by buildings or religious practices connected to them.

As I write this post today’s royal wedding is playing in the background. The law, the monarchy and the temple clearly remain the strong legitimating core of western life. I thank God for the apparently real love of the royal couple and their prayerful commitment to care for those who suffer. I affirm the hope for the future that good aspects of the past conjure, and delight in the beautiful architecture and sublime music of the ceremony. But the fact remains that the whole established edifice effectively imprisons the radical gospel of love which was so freely given to elevate the poor and bring about the end of empire and its structures. It is this radical gospel that we are called to liberate and live by.


  1. roger – a big yes!!! And I just want to say how good it is to sup on the fruit of your years of labour. I appreciate it. c.

  2. Thank you for explaining what I knew on a gut level

  3. I think I understand where you are coming from on this,and agree with much of what you have to say.I to felt the power of our class system yesterday at the same time I wish them well with what I hope is a happy marriage.
    I agree that the temple or building is no longer our focus or need but it is indeed the Kingdom,but there is for me a need to gather in order to be part of a community that is loving and encouraging so that we can worship Jesus and together discover more and more of that Kingdom and help each other find new ways to bring that kingdom to our neighbours.I believe that is the kind of community Jesus is building.

    • Thanks for this Billy. I am certainly not against gathering! But I still want to say that organising special gatherings is not the main purpose of the ecclesia, and that the concept of gathering needs to include the spontaneous and informal, and the more deliberate events need to be because of the kingdom and planned and evaluated with that in mind. The tendency for regular meetings of the ecclesia to default to the centrality of buildings and temple practices is, in my experience, extremely strong and this all too easily displaces the incarnational life to which the ecclesia is primarily called. Avoiding this default and reconfiguring the identity and practice of being what I call a kenarchic people is a big but necessary challenge.

  4. Most of my experience has been around a gathering with no building.The gatherings have taken place in various locations over the years an so I have no attachment to any particular building,but I do have a set of relationships that need to be nurtured.It is among those relationships that I find love and accountability which is necessary for me to flourish

    I think that the temple life was torn down by Christ in order that we could gather around him so could build us into his church.It is in that place that he is able to build us into the body he is looking for .
    It is sadly,very easy for Gods people to lose sight of this and allow the temple to become the centre again.

  5. Another excellent post Rog, thanks. I’ve been mulling over it for a couple of days.

    I hear what Billy is saying. We are (for those who don’t know me) part of a bunch of friends who, at times, get together and end up having a sing/pray/discussion whatever, although this is not the summation of our friendships or life in God. Those times are life giving for those of us who get together, and probably help us be more of who it is we’re supposed to be for our neighbours, work places or city. But if we’re not careful, whether in a building or just in our homes these gatherings and what we do in them can become another temple/replacement temple and the acts can become religious hoops that we make ourselves and others jump through in order to feel ‘closer’ to God.

    I have been through several ‘worship schools’ in my life and most of them have taught that when we worship, we should think of ourselves going through the outer courts of the temple with ‘praise and thanksgiving’ and then coming to the mercy seat and dealing with our sin and then entering into the inner courts of adoration, before we finally hit the holy of holies and reach spiritual ecstasy and intimacy………..So we got rid of the real temple, but just set up an imaginary one instead which in our minds really upholds the need for a priest to lead us there and help us (with the act of eucharist especially in this context), and makes us feel that certain more religious acts bring God closer than He already is (although He is actually welling up inside us all the time).

    But we all have constant access into this holy of holies all the time, not just in these special moments when we feel all nice inside (and don’t get me wrong, I love those moments!), and we need to be careful that we don’t try and just perpetuate experiences at the cost of making it a religious requirement of really knowing God.

    I have personally encountered the tangible presence of God in many such settings, but I have known His presence just as strongly on the platform of Stalybridge Station or in my consulting room or in the park with my kids, or in bed with my wife because He really is that radically intimate with us. Those acts we do that feel more religious are no more valid, now we are the living temple, than anything else we do in life, in helping us encounter God. But that does not mean (and I know Rog isn’t saying this) that there is therefore no place for the kind of activities that used to happen in the temple within our lives! It’s just that we now have to recover what they are really for as part of a Kenarchic Ecclesia!

    Just a quick question then Rog. I once heard you say at a building together event in Hemel, that you know all that we do is worship, but there was in your eyes at the time, something still very special about the drawing near to God in worship through song, and that it was an important part of life for us as the people of God. Do you still hold this position?

    • Thanks for this Andy, and for your your question. The answer is emphatically yes. I believe that there is an individual and corporate kind of intimacy with the Trinity in articulated worship that we cannot do without for too long. This I take it is what the writer to the Hebrews is getting at when he or she says “through him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to his name” (Heb 13:15). But as I have also said in the past, perhaps at the time you allude to, if we use the analogy of sex within marriage, intimacy without mutual friendship and service within the creation can become a soul destroying grind. Similarly the tragedy of ecclesial life if not positioned as friendship and service is the devaluation and loss of this kind of intimacy. The answer is not to crank it up or insist on it but to restore the life of the ecclesia in the world.
      I’ve often wondered why I detest much of so-called Christian TV so much, and why it has a similar impact on me to what I feel when I accidentally scroll past a porn channel. It is because so much of it is a show of intimacy without the accompanying shared life and service of the ecclesia in the context of the work of the kingdom of God throughout the whole of creation. It is like sex for its own sake, and it becomes sickening in the end.
      My hope is that once the ecclesia is properly positioned away from law, monarchy and temple then good times of corporate and individual worship intimacy can be properly rediscovered. For those whose ecclesial lives already have this work-life balance then I’m in no way wishing to spoil it. But care needs to be taken that current inbalances don’t lead to a devaluation and ultimate loss of real intimacy.

  6. I totally agree with that.

  7. Funny how we ended up focusing on worship so much eh? I remember being told that worship was everything. If we just worshipped correctly, with enough joy and energy, with the right music of course, and maybe even some jumping around (hands in air is assumed) then the Spirit would visit us and all would be well. The result is as you say – sex without relationship and that cannot have seemed good to the one we were presumably worshipping.

    But it also brought around ritual. Charismatic, Spirit-led, worship became quite ritualized as was inevitable. Ritual demands administrators and managers. Weekly gatherings in buildings means someone to do child-care with or without Sunday School, janitors, secretaries etc, etc. Pretty soon you have a physical and social ediface to maintain and finance. In short – you have an institution. Institutions can be great things. In my study of water infrastructure, it is clear that it is institutions that can do the big projects as they are a form of human cooperation. But they also get stuck in their own foundations, in their own concrete, solidify and ossify.

    At the end of it all, worship became something else and we lost the one we sought. I think Jesus essentially left the church a long time ago. He was either disgusted with all the abuses (financial, personal, social) or bored with our worship. He remains active and busy – doing what He sees the Father doing. Now its time for us to admit our boredom and ennui and move on. There’s lots to do out there and ultimately I suspect, since we will be active and engaged and continually amazed that our worship will be much better anyway.

  8. Men will always take something of God and change it for there own and the church is no different.This does not mean that God has abandoned it completely.There are far too many faithful and loving people left for him to do that.
    Having said that I do believe the church has many problems to overcome one of which is its love of worship over its love of Jesus.There was no point in Jesus tearing down all the barriers just for us to replace them again with our own,and the song led worship we have become so attached to is a prime example of that.people have become addicted to it and feel they cannot worship God without it.But that does not mean we cannot change.
    A few years ago I almost made the choice to walk away from church but in the end I stayed because of the relationships I have there, relationships that enable me to be more of who I am meant to be (as Andy Said).The journey I have been on since has changed me and those around me ,it has brought me into a fresh relationship with God and has strengthened my worship.

  9. I have no doubt that God, in his mercy and kindness, has planted Kingdom loving people in the institution of the church. He would have to do that out of love. It takes a certain kind of clear sighted courage to accept that call. For me, even if I wanted to attend, at the moment I cannot. I have an aging kitty who requires essential mediation on Sunday mornings. So perhaps God is ensuring I don’t attend right now and has let it be known that is not my call? However, I still despair of an institution that calls itself the representative of God and then behaves as it does (and I include all brands of institutional christianity in that). I don’t know what a real Kingdom movement looks like yet but boy I am eager to see it!

  10. I don’t think any of us know what it looks like yet but we do have some clues to build on.Those clues include the call to love one another,the knowledge that we don’t need a special gathering place and the gift that is the holy spirit.
    Maybe we could see something grow from these foundations,but only if we were willing to let go of all the other stuff that holds us back.

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