Many people get confused and think that the church is the building where Christians meet. Others understand it to be the organisation with its hierarchy of ministers/priests etc. Yet the truth is that the church is the people of God.
The following talk deals with this subject and was given at Becontree Avenue Baptist Church on Sunday 16th January 2011.
1 Peter 2: 4 – 12
4 As you come to him, the living Stone–rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him– 5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” 7 Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone, ” 8 and, “A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the message–which is also what they were destined for. 9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 11 Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
Where on earth is God’s dwelling place?
Perhaps you could argue that until the events of Easter and Pentecost, God’s address on earth was the Temple in Jerusalem. When we read the Old Testament we read about the specifications of first of all the tabernacle that the Jews had in the desert and then the temple that Solomon built in Jerusalem.
This is what we are told happened after Solomon dedicated the temple 2 Chronicles 7: 1 – 4 “ When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple. The priests could not enter the temple of the LORD because the glory of the LORD filled it. When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and the glory of the LORD above the temple, they knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshipped and gave thanks to the LORD, saying, “He is good; his love endures forever.”
Then for about the next 900 years, God was worshipped at the Temple in Jerusalem. Agreed it was destroyed when Jerusalem was overwhelmed by the Babylonians and the Jews were sent into exile. It was subsequently rebuilt twice, the second time it was started by Herod the Great just before Jesus was born. According to John2:2 it took 46 years to build.
Finally in 70AD the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and it would seem looting soldiers burnt down the temple to fulfil Jesus’ prophecy that not one stone would be standing on another. See Matthew 24:1 – 2.
If you read the letter to the Hebrews, much of it is taken up with the fact there is no longer any need for sacrifices or indeed for the traditional High Priests, as we have a new High Priest, Jesus who has made the one perfect sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. So if there is no need for further sacrifices there is no longer a need for a temple.
Indeed Jesus had prophesied this when he talked with the Samaritan woman at the well: John 4:21, 23 & 24: Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
The early church from the days of the apostles would meet in each other’s homes to worship and to break bread. See 1 Corinthians 16:19 “The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets at their house.” and also, Colossians 4:15 “Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house.”
It was some time later that a church fellowship would have its own specific building where they could meet and worship. It is said that the construction of specific buildings for churches really started when the Roman Emperor Constantine became a Christian and made Christianity the official religion.
Unfortunately since then there has often been confusion between church as a building and church as the people of God.
In the early 13th century Francis of Assisi got it wrong when he heard Jesus telling him to rebuild my church. He though Jesus meant the ruined church building at Assisi, rather than a spiritual renewal of the people.
Similarly some years ago whilst I was in the Church of England, I went with our church treasurer to a meeting of local church treasurers to talk about finances etc and a very earnest man told the meeting that unless they raised so many thousand pounds, for repairs there would no longer be a church in Hornchurch. What he meant was that the building would fall down, not that the fellowship of believers would fall apart!
So the church of Jesus is the people, you and me here in Becontree and indeed believers throughout the world, no matter what denomination or label you may put on them.
We are being built into a temple. We are a work in progress and whilst individually we shall be perfect in heaven, so corporately we shall be a finished building when Jesus returns.
Many people think that they can be Christians on their own. They try to go it alone. Christianity is not an individual pastime. From many of the families I visit, I do understand why some people have simply walked away from the church because of what has happened to them. But just as you can’t build a house out of a single brick or roof slate so you can’t really be a Christian on your own. We all need our brothers and sisters.
However as we see from our reading, Jesus is the cornerstone on which the church is built. The cornerstone or foundation stone is the one used as a reference point for the rest of the building. If after the service you look at the church hall you will see the foundation stone inscribed with various names, and the rest of the brickwork is laid in line with it.
As Jesus said in Matthew 16:18 “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”
To non believers Jesus is a stumbling block something you may trip over like so much rubble on a building site. Often they try and do philosophical somersaults to explain him away or just put him somewhere into the building they are constructing. Yet to believers he is the foundation of our lives and we are built on him. As you can see from history all mankind’s attempts to build upon human ideas and philosophies and manmade religions ultimately fail. It is only lives built on Jesus that survive.
Where churches have forgotten Jesus and strayed from the word of God, they have failed as if the whole building has been shifted away from its cornerstone by an earthquake and down it comes, or it tilts at a crazy angle like the Tower of Pisa.
Just as there are many different materials used in a building so Jesus has a use for each and every one of us in building his church. That is why the Holy Spirit gives us so many different gifts to use alongside our natural talents and abilities.
Romans 12: 6 – 8 “6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. 7 If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8 if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.”
I think we will leave looking at specific Spiritual Gifts for another time. Suffice it to say that they are given to build up the church not for people to show off as they try to be some sort of Super Christian. In 1 Corinthians 14:12 Paul writes “Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church.” Also in Ephesians 4:11 – 13 “ It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
However over time our role within the church can change, as if bricks can become windows or floor boards or roof slates or whatever. I caught up with an old friend during the week. When I knew him in the Church of England he had been involved with youth work, my fellow churchwarden, sound technician and occasional member of the worship group. Since moving to a different church he has been worship leader and now heads up the prayer ministry team.
No matter what we do in the fellowship we are all important. If you are not feeling special and loved this morning then listen to what Peter wrote about Christians: 1 Peter 2: 9 – 10 “9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. “
Now isn’t that something? We all belong to God we are part of his royal family and we all have a mission. We are all called to be priests offering spiritual sacrifices to God and declaring his praises.
Sometime we worry that our fellowship is small in numbers or we are aging or we are not making progress like some other fellowships. Regardless of all that we have to remain faithful to God and stand on his word, remembering Jesus’ promises in Matthew 18:18 – 20 “I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”
So to answer the question I asked at the start of this talk, “Where on earth is God’s dwelling place?” God lives individually and corporately in the hearts of his people. We are a work in progress but we are being built into a temple fit for God’s own dwelling place.