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What Was Lost?

I live in a small town in southern Ontario. In it are a half-dozen or so churches, Protestant and Catholic. Last winter (January 2003), one of the Protestant congregations had a fire that destroyed their "church." It had been a well-known landmark on the main street of the town for over a century. Although I was never a member, I was in it a few times over the years, to attend weddings or funerals, and passed by it probably thousands of times over the last nearly 50 years (and still do nearly every day, the Post Office is just across the street) that I have lived here. It was a magnificent building, with two massive bell towers in the front, and highly-ornate wood craftsmanship throughout. Although the exterior was stone and red brick, all of that wood inside, plus the great beams of its frame, made a truly great, and horrendous to witness, fire.

What Was Lost?

Church Fire At Burford, Ontario The photo shows the fire after it was being brought under control by the local volunteer fire department, who called in reinforcements from 4 surrounding towns to help keep the fire from spreading through the downtown area - which they did; no other buildings were lost (although some of the very closest were somewhat scorched) and no one was injured. The arched door at the center of the photo, in the right tower, shown full of flames, was the main public entrance to the church. The massive high-peaked roof was burned and collapsed at the time of the photo. The amount of dense smoke turned a sunny day into a seeming overcast one. Amazingly, the church records of baptisms, marriages etc. survived the fire in a fire resistant safe in a basement office. Today, there is an empty lot where that church stood, while that congregation contemplates what to do with the insurance money (investigators ruled that the fire was accidental, apparently having started in a lower-level kitchen area).

What was lost in that fire? A church, or a building that a church (without getting into whether or not they were of the true church) met in? The Biblical answer, a building. All of the "church," the people of that congregation, survived. Their building was lost, they weren't.

No where in the Bible is a church referred to as a building. Nor is it ever referred to as a corporate entity. In the Bible, church means people.

In the New Testament, church is the translation of the Greek word (pronounced) ek-klay-see-ah, meaning a gathering of those called. It was later, in post-apostolic times, that the Greek word pronounced kuriakon came to be used to denote a place, and it is from that word that the English word "church" is believed to have been derived. But the Bible definition of "church" has always been the people.

Fact Finder: What is the Biblical definition of a "saint"?
See What Is A Saint?

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