In 1 Chronicles, we can read the account of King David’s organization of the temple, one that he helped design. He instituted singers, handed out specific duties to various Levitical branches and clans, established an order of worship, and more. In so doing, the king introduced a radical shift in Levitical function.
No longer would the Levites pack, unpack, set up, take down, and carry the tabernacle. Gone were the days of routine maintenance of a cloth-and-leather structure. Instead, they would care for a permanent structure, one with porticoes and multiple floors, with massive decorations and enormous sacrifice facilities.
What, I wonder, were the practical implications of this shift?
Did the stationary nature of their center of worship create an elite set of Levites who were blessed enough to live near Jerusalem and serve in the temple?
Did they cease to view the presence of God as the key to worship and instead focus on the physical temple as being the center of the nation’s spiritual life?
Did physical stability bolster the tendency for the later development of empty rituals and casual spiritual habits?
Did a professional class of worshippers arise out of this change, people who straddled the line between calling and professionalism in their worship duties?
I realize that I am asking questions that likely do not have answers. After all, we cannot exactly check the history books. I know I am asking for speculation. In fact, even the specific questions I am asking assume a certain perspective or set of circumstances that might not have existed. So, yeah, I’m chasing pretty much nothing here.
Or am I?
Now that I think about it, there were some later parallels. The early church, as I recall, was somewhat mobile and quite diffuse, but historically we know that they eventually began to centralize things around theological centers and physical buildings. A spiritual elite began to form who were professional leaders, and emphasis was placed on physical locations more than an experience with a living God.
There’s something here, something applicable to modern times, but I just can’t….can’t quite put my finger on it.
I don’t think that we err when we have large buildings and great facilities. We can serve so many people in such unique ways through large, stable churches, yet I wonder about the need we seem to place on a central location and excellent facilities. I think about mission teams that travel the world building churches in the midst of communities, communities full of living rooms and carports where the locals already gather for meals and parties and socializing. I wonder about the various trappings and duties and personal fiefdoms within churches that seem to spring up only in the presence of building-based ministries.
I see my own biases in all this. I can’t afford to give my people here in Ecuador their own church buildings, so we use houses. Perhaps I perceive negative trends in large, permanent meeting sites out of an unconscious desire to justify my own lack.
Even though I’m chasing pretty much nothing in my speculation about the changes in Levitical duties, I still just wonder. That’s all.
I’d love to hear from a megachurch pastor in all this.