Recently a network aired a show about an old church in New York that was rumored to be haunted. I watched for several minutes until other things moved me away. Hmm... a haunted church. Aside from the curious idea of some invisible (mostly), lingering, lonely, perhaps sorrowful (malevolent?) ghosts hanging around anyplace, here is a non-sequitur.
The church of Christ is by definition the haunt of Jesus Himself. He said, "Where two or three are gathered in My name, there I am in the midst." One wonders if those promoting this media event sense the irony in their preoccupation.
The show prompted me to reconsider what is a misconception and a myth. The church is in fact the Body of Christ, the local assembly, and not an edifice built by men. Thus in reality the "church" the ghost hunters examined was just a quaint arrangement of brick.
A gathering of believers, sometimes called disciples or children of God, is the real dwelling place of God. The Holy Ghost, as the scripture calls him, rules as Lord of the church. In a very real sense he "inhabits" and "visits" the assembly as the invisible, supernatural person that he is.
Would Christ be content to dwell with a distracting spirit (since all glory must go to him and scripture commands order, not chaos in the church) or is he, in this case, simply unaware or incapable of removing the distracting "spirit"?
The Apostle Paul was inspired to write, "For we (the Church) are a temple of the living God; just as God said, I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God and they shall be My people.'"
Lately it seems that many are indifferent to his presence. Will the Creator/Redeemer who saves through the suffering of the blood of the cross be pushed aside by a suspicious shifting of a curtain or the unusual flicker of a candle?
In many other gatherings he is similarly silenced by a focus upon ritual or a self-sensitive, man-centered fellowship. Do you meet with God as you gather, or has ceremony and tradition eclipsed him? What spirits would gain control of an assembly that has forgotten and excluded him? The gathering place called the church is called by God his temple ... his "haunt."
Perhaps this is why Christ pictures himself rejected, outside of the end-times assembly when he said to one church in the Revelation, "I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will dine with him and he with Me." This appeal is apparently to the one who may be in the neglectful gathering and suggests that the individual may at least have communion with the Lord.
Paul also informs the Corinthian church that the individual believer is indwelt in the same fashion as the corporate Body of Christ. He writes, "Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?"
Elsewhere the New Testament tells us that true disciples are the "habitation" or "dwelling place" of God's Spirit. In like inspiration, he tells the Greek philosophers at Mars Hill in Athens, "The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made with hands ..." Our entire focus is skewed if we believe God is content to inhabit our cathedrals or is even impressed with them. His ultimate desire is to possess a cleansed human temple, perhaps yours or mine.
Christ's teaching in John's gospel is that the Holy Ghost is to "abide" with us and be "in" us. His relationship with us is eternal ... He promises he will never leave.
This persistent accompaniment I have called a "haunting" is the result of God's relentless quest to rescue us from judgment. He might even be called the "good stalker." He seeks to ransom our souls. You can find him in the Gospel, but beware: he may step from its pages and take your soul! May we truly be a "haunted" church. Amen.
The Rev. Bruce McCardel is the pastor at Susquehanna Valley Baptist Church, at 1796 County Route 48, in Oneonta. He can be reached at the church at 432-8523.