It was a day of mixed emotions. Tears stained some cheeks, while others’ hands met together in applause. Among some there was a sobering silence which was broken by joyful shouts of others. The announcement had just been made that formal approval had been given for the congregation to build a new church building.
Torrents of memories flooded the minds of many. Flowing freely were the mental scenes of baptisms, weddings, funerals, ordinations, and special events in that church house. Families had worshiped together there. Older members of the congregation remembered parents and grandparents who had sacrificed to build the present building.
Yet scattered throughout the auditorium were those who could only feel the discomfort of crowded pews, inadequate parking, and an obsolete structure for contemporary ministry. The scent of fresh air filled their lungs as they could envision a spacious, secure, and comfortable ministry center designed to be used daily and to meet real human needs.
It was a day of mixed emotions.
However, the events of this day were more than happenstance. They were the result of genuine awareness, careful thought, fervent and persistent prayer, true love, deliberate planning, personal considerations, and numerous other activities. A sense of mission had been established. Freedom of speech was promoted. A challenge to dream your wildest dream was issued. And the Scriptures were constantly preached declaring the whole counsel of God, which instilled faith, confidence, and conviction to undertake such a project.
As exhilarating as such an experience is when hard work and answered prayers merge together, we know that building a building isn’t really building the church. Trite as it may seem, perhaps we need to be reminded that the church isn’t a building. The church is people. Christians are the church. Each Christian is a building block added to other Christians, who, when all are properly connected, comprise the temple of God. Thus, when we talk about building the church, in its true essence building the church would be doing something constructive with individual Christians. The ultimate goal of these works on individuals would be to affect the whole church so that she might be the glorious dwelling place of God on the earth.
Therefore, if so much thought, effort, and prayer are put into the construction of a physical house for the church to use, how much more diligence should be given to building the church? Peter had something to say about that in his first letter, “And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:4, 5 New American Standard Bible).
So, how do we build the church today? In this passage there are three components in the blueprint for building the church: relationship, identity, and purpose.
We must remember the church is Christ’s, not ours. The Bible teaches that Christ built the church, bought the church, loves the church, gave himself for the church, is head of the church, and he adds to the church. Any connection we have with the church is through our personal relationship with Christ. Peter pointed that out in the phrase, “Coming to him” (v. 4).
A causal look at those teachings of Christ’s relationship with the church implies that for us to contemplate building the church, we must determine what Christ wants for the church. Then we must do whatever it takes and pay whatever price for the church to manifest her true essence. Where she is lacking, we must build her up. Where she is sturdy, we must properly maintain. Where she is broken, she must be repaired. However, since she belongs to Christ, she must be remodeled from his blueprint.
A building would look quite strange if it were all nails, or boards, or shingles. So it is imperative that Christians see themselves as they really are. Peter says we are “living stones.” Christ was first represented by Peter as a “living stone.” A stone is lifeless, hard, and cold. We commonly use clichés that point that out. “Stone dead.” “Hard as a rock.” “Cold as a stone.” Christ is anything but that, which is what Peter wanted his readers to recognize. The concept of Christ being a living stone hearkens back to theology (the eternally living One), Old Testament prophecy (Isaiah 28:16), specific teaching by Christ himself (Matthew 16:18), and the words and writings of the apostles (Acts 4:11; Ephesians 2:20).
A stone is firm and is used as material for the foundation of buildings. That is what Peter wanted his readers to see. The original recipients of Peter’s letter were Christians undergoing persecution. He told them that regardless of their circumstances their faith was firm and their hope was secure because they had come unto the living stone!
Stone is also decorative. My childhood hometown was referred to as the limestone capital of the world. Many buildings were covered with stone. Stone fireplaces were often the centerpiece of interior decorations. Stone monuments and markers adorn the region. So it is with the church. Our “natural” qualities (i.e. love, joy, peace, grace, mercy, peace, forgiveness, truth, etc.) are to adorn us to attract others to Christ.
Buildings are built for a reason. They serve a purpose. And that is where Peter went in his thoughts about building the church. “You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). In biblical thought the priests went before God on behalf of the people. The priests offered sacrifices to God to meet spiritual needs.
We fulfill that same role in the sense that we see ourselves as members of the church connected to others even as we are connected to Christ. Christ connected with us personally because of his great love, and by his sacrificial death. He died for our sins (Romans 5:8; 1 Corinthians 15:4). That same spirit of loving sacrifice is to characterize our relationship with other believers.
The sacrifices we offer, however, are not for the cleansing of sin as Christ has already made that sacrifice once and for all. We offer up sacrifices today by doing whatever is necessary to honor God, submit to the lordship of Christ, and meet the needs of others. Perhaps our sacrifice might be a few minutes from our schedule to share a cup of coffee with a lonely friend. Or maybe our sacrifice is to tutor a young person who is struggling academically. How about that cancer patient who needs transportation to treatments? Is there an elderly brother or sister who needs help with a household chore? Entire ministries in the local church are often crying for more workers. A young couple sure could use a few hours of free childcare. Who can ever measure the impact of an encouraging note, text, email, or phone call? When we make those kinds of sacrifices, a truly beautiful image of the church is seen, and it is obvious the spirit of Christ is dwelling among us.
One day we will all stand before the Lord with our eternal destiny hanging in the balance. At that time, the type of building the church met in won’t matter. But it will make an eternal difference where and how we have fit into building the church. Let’s heed Peter’s words to connect with Christ, be a firm and beautiful stone in the church, and sacrificially love others for Christ’s sake.
Kerry Allen lives in Hillsboro, Ohio with his wife, Pam. He serves as Executive Director of Person to Person Ministries.