Let’s consider the passages Alexander cites.
(1Co 3:16-17 ESV) 16 Do you not know that you [plural] are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you [plural] are that temple.
Here the emphasis is on unity. Under the old covenant, there was but one Temple and God dwelled specially in but one place. The Temple was indivisible. The church — in its local presence — is to be like the Temple — God’s special presence in a community, indivisible because there is but one God who dwells but in one place: his singular, unique church.
To divide the church in a community, therefore, would be a sin comparable to tearing down the walls of the Temple or shredding the fabric of the Tabernacle.
We therefore worship God most truly in our unity and in showing the world a presence of God as singular and as unique as the Temple. Of course, in a Southern town of hundreds of thousands, we can’t all meet in a single building, but we can all be one. And it’s the being that declares the essential unity of God’s temple, the church. We don’t have to be assembled as one to be one.
Of course, the church is far, far removed from the lesson and the command! And so it’s incumbent on us all to seek unity in our hometowns, presenting the world with God’s presence in a single Temple.
(2Co 6:16-1 ESV) 16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 17 Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, 18 and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.”
Paul quotes from the Law and the Prophets, arguing that because the church is the temple of God, the members of the church must be separate from the pagan world that surrounds them. Hence, being God’s temple requires separation from the world and from all forms of idolatry. The church is uniquely where God is to be worshiped, and God is the unique God to be worshiped. One God. One church.
(Eph 2:19-22 ESV) 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
Paul is addressing the inclusion of the Gentiles into the church, founded among the Jews. The church is a temple for God (in a fully Trinitarian sense, you’ll notice), being built by Jesus himself. The point is that the Gentiles are a part of the same building as the Jews. God himself is assembling them into a single building in which God will dwell by his Spirit.
Again, the emphasis is on unity but also a common purpose, that is, being a place for God to dwell. Now, God’s dwelling means more than that this is a place to worship — although it does mean that. But the “place to worship” is not the church building or even the Sunday assembly, but the church itself, for the church is always God’s temple, not just on Sunday morning.
(1Pe 2:4-12 ESV) 4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
Peter makes use of the same comparison. Christians are “living stones being built up as a spiritual house” — surely a temple! — where spiritual sacrifices are to be offered. So what are these “spiritual sacrifices”? (Sounds a lot like Romans 12:1, doesn’t it?)
7 So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” 8 and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
One spiritual sacrifice is the proclamation of the excellencies of Jesus — but not so much by hiring a preacher to proclaim to the congregation by rather by the Living Stones proclaiming to “those who do not believe.”
10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.
Another sacrifice is abstaining from fleshly passions and living as sojourners, strangers on this earth who are citizens of heaven living on mission in a strange land.
12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
Another is engaging in honorable conduct among those of the world. And yet another is doing “good deeds” that bring such glory to God that the pagans are converted!
So what are “spiritual sacrifices”? Well, it’s righteous living, care for those in need, and proclaiming Jesus to the lost.
And so, yes, yes, yes! God’s people are his temple on earth today! To worship God one must come to where he is worshipped — his congregation, his church. There is no other place of worship on this planet! Only in the church — as a part of the body of Christ — may God be worshiped. For apart from Christ, there is no way to come into God’s presence.
God is present in and through his church, as the body of Christ continues his ministry on earth, caring for those in need and preaching the good news of the kingdom.
The church is like the Temple in that the church is where God receives sacrifices — not atonement sacrifices (Jesus handled that for us a long time ago) — but peace (or fellowship) offerings, where we make voluntary sacrifices to thank God for his blessings. These are offerings given out of love for God in which the person making the sacrifice shares a meal with God. The Lord’s Supper has roots in this practice, as do the other forms of worship just described — because living as God would have us live places us in closer fellowship with God and brings us joy. Life becomes a meal shared with God.
And the church is God’s temple because, like the Temple of Solomon, it displays to the world the glories of God, by presenting a unique, special place, undivided and indivisible, where God and God alone is worshipped. (Well, that’s the theory, anyway.)
Does this impact the assembly? Absolutely, but not in the way often imagined. We don’t design our assemblies to be like or unlike the Temple service. Rather, we assemble for the reasons given in scripture — mutual edification (1 Cor 14; Heb 10:24-25) and to share a common meal with Jesus present (the Lord’s Supper). The assembly therefore strengthens and builds us up to better offer sacrifices and to continue our worship to God with our bodies the rest of the week.
And this is how we worship in Spirit and in truth — by worshiping in the Spirit who dwells among us always — not just at 10:00 a.m. Sunday morning — in the gospel of Jesus Christ, which teaches us to proclaim the good news of the kingdom and to work with God in honoring Jesus’ prayer that his will be done on earth as it is heaven.
Does this mean the assembly isn’t worship? Of course, not. It just means that it’s not uniquely worship. It’s worship, but so are other things. And the Temple typology applies to it all.
Therefore, the rules don’t change on Sunday. Every day is a holy day because every day belongs to God. Every place is a holy place because God made it all. And every act of devotion is a fellowship offering, because it’s all done out of thanksgiving to God, who shares his bounty with us.
Hence, the notion that there’s this vast body of semi-hidden rules buried in the New Testament, telling what to do and not do during the Sunday worship because God wants to be worshiped in only a special way on penalty of damnation is utterly foreign to the New Testament. That’s not what it’s about, and it’s a huge misunderstanding of the new covenant to imagine that the soundness or faithfulness of a church is to be tested by its obedience to rules regulating the assembly, divined through an obscure hermeneutic of silences. That’s not what God wants from us at all.