“Don’t run in church!”
The first time I heard this, it was not spoken by an excited Christian who took a lap for Jesus around the worship center. When this command really “hit me”, I couldn’t believe how bad the theology was.
Hear me out.
Let’s work backward: “church”. Despite how folks seem to use this word, “church” is not the building, it’s the people. We do not (and cannot, Biblically speaking), “go to church”.
We ARE the church; we go to a building. When the church gathers on Sunday, we are bringing the church into the building.
Second, should a child only refrain from running in a church’s building or it is actually good manners and safety to not allow a child to run inside any building where adults are around (and could be hurt)?
This command to children reveals how sloppy our doctrine as Christians can be. And Scripture warns us to be careful about this type of thing. After encouraging us to see the example of Epaphroditus, the imprisoned Apostle shifts gears and pens in Philippians 3:1-4a:
1 Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. 2 Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. 3 For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh—4a though I myself have reasons for such confidence.
Philippians 3:1-4a, NIV
Paul is warning the church about those who would derail the Gospel by insisting Christians must adhere to the Law of the Old Testament to obtain salvation. Should Christians have to perform works of faith to secure salvation, it’s no longer the grace of God through Jesus. If it’s no longer grace, it’s no longer the “Good News”. If it’s not the “Good News”, then we don’t have salvation.
The stakes are high for Paul to make sure the church gets this right: Heaven and Hell are in the balance.
He safeguards them by warning them to be very careful around those who would wreak havoc in the church by altering the underpinning of our salvation.
Paul reminds us all: it is not the physical signs of salvation that save us; it is the renewed life in Jesus we possess. While this certainly produces outward effects, they are produced from the inside-out.
And that’s why we can’t put our confidence in our religious deeds.
I understand why we don’t want children to run in a church building: respect for the place. Funny thing is: the place is just wood, stone, sheetrock, and wires unless the church is inside. The building may be dedicated to the Lord, but it’s the church that is sacred, not the space.
My point is this: we’re using a sloppy example to teach children something important. And in doing so, we’re allowing subsequent generations to institutionalize the church so that they allow themselves “off the hook” because “church” is an organization they belong to that does the good deeds and such.
The building is not “the circumcision”. We Christians are. Jesus didn’t die for buildings; He died for people. Let’s do the church a favor and get our terms right so we speak truth to each other and (more importantly) to the world that needs us to get this “theology thing” right.
We don’t put confidence in our external religious acts divorced from a deep change towards Jesus inside. The building doesn’t sanctify us. Because of Jesus, we sanctify anywhere we are.
Everything we think is “the church’s job”; it’s our job—yours and mine. Let’s go be the “church” to the world.
And…don’t run inside buildings.