A Box in the Back

In the matter of giving and receiving, the church has responsibilities, just as the giver does. We have seen that God wants His people to refrain from giving financially when there are unresolved conflicts in the church. We have also seen that giving is a response of obedience over time, and not the result of an emotional warp spasm. But what responsibility does the church have?

The first is that the church is responsible to be teaching the people the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). We are not to teach what the Bible says in bits and pieces, but rather are to gather it all up in a systematic whole. But this includes teaching the people what the church should do in the presence of the people, and not just what the people should do for the church.

When it comes to godly fund-raising, there are two basic methods employed in the Bible. When Paul puts the godly squeeze on the saints, it is for the sake of distributing practical relief to others (2 Cor. 9:2-4). Even there, there is a point made of having accountability (2 Cor. 8:18-20), but Paul does lean on the saints to dig deep and give . . . to the poor.

When it comes to building construction or reconstruction, the method we see in Scripture is the method of putting a box at the entry way of the sanctuary. This is how the Temple was rebuilt under Jehoash. “But Jehoiada the priest took a chest, and bored a hole in the lid of it, and set it beside the altar, on the right side as one cometh into the house of the Lord: and the priests that kept the door put therein all the money that was brought into the house of the Lord” (2 Kings 12:9). We also see that this is how donations were taken in at the Temple at the time of Jesus. The Lord watched as the widow woman put her two mites into the offering box at the entry to the Temple (Mark 12:42).

This is why, incidentally, we don’t pass the plate during the worship service. We present our tithes and offerings as part of our worship, but we don’t collect them that way. When we pass anything around, it is to distribute, to give. When we celebrate the Supper together, the elders send men out into the congregation to give, not to take. And when the Lord leads you to give, you may do so at the entry, and with no one looking over your shoulder.

So let the stones cry out.

The Tribute Tithe

Whatever we do, we should seek to do it all to the glory of God. This includes the details of our worship service, certainly, but it also includes other issues, like architecture and design. But a step behind that is the question of money, and raising money. Underneath all of it is the heart attitude of God’s people, wanting to do what God wants us to do, and doing it the way He wants us to do it.

When it comes to money, we have already noted that you should refrain from giving to the church if your financial affairs are not in order. If your brother has a beef with you—and such things are frequently financial—leave your gift unpresented until things are good between you and your brother. If God doesn’t want it, then why give it?

But there are other financial aspects to all of this. Do not give convulsively, in the emotional heat of a building campaign. Labor instead to become a tither, one who consistently gives ten percent of your increase to the Lord’s work, as He leads you. You might think that a group of non-tithers would have more money available to give in a spasm of giving, but this is not the way it works. In a God-honoring campaign, disciplined givers can do a lot more by giving a little more than usual, than undisciplined givers can do by giving what they think is a lot.

We want the church sanctuary to be a center of grace, a center of giving, a place from which blessings flow. The building is an emblem of the people themselves, and we want to be a people who pay tribute to God. That is what the tithe is, actually. We do not give ten percent so that God will leave us alone with our ninety percent. That would just be an ecclesiastical extortion racket. Rather we give ten percent as tribute, a ten percent that says in a very tangible way that one hundred percent belongs to God. And it does not really matter how much of it there is. What matters is what percentage of it is blessed.

So let the stones cry out.

Winnowing the Givers

Most Christians appreciate the blessings of actually having a church building, but many Christians also detest many aspects of getting the buildings built. Chief among the objects of our distaste would be the vexed problem of fundraising. This is not surprising, because it is too often the case that we want to pursue a Holy Ghost mission with the devil’s funding model.

The Bible does tell us that God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:7), but it does no good to harangue everybody with this glorious truth if the leadership of the church insists on doubling down on all the things that make cheerful giving impossible. So in the conviction that a godly approach to funding is not going to happen by accident, we are going to spend some time in considering what the Bible teaches about righteous giving. This will only happen if God preserves the imagination of the thoughts of our hearts.

“I know also, my God, that thou triest the heart, and hast pleasure in uprightness. As for me, in the uprightness of mine heart I have willingly offered all these things: and now have I seen with joy thy people, which are present here, to offer willingly unto thee. O Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, our fathers, keep this for ever in the imagination of the thoughts of the heart of thy people, and prepare their heart unto thee” (1 Chron. 29:17–18).

So let us begin with the conditions under which we may not give to our building fund. You cannot love God, whom you have not seen, if you do not love your brother, whom you have not paid.

For some mysterious reason, Christians frequently take Christ’s instruction about leaving our gift at the altar as a prohibition of taking communion if your brother has something against you (Matt. 5:23-24). Perhaps there is something a little self-serving in churches letting the people think this, because Jesus is actually prohibiting giving a fat donation to the church when there are issues between you and your brother.

Now frequently such issues between brothers are financial. Sad to say, brothers frequently flake on brothers. Sometimes it is for twenty cents and other times it is for 20 grand. So if you have any outstanding obligations—for work promised, for payments unfulfilled, whatever it was—stay out of our fund-raising campaign until that is all cleared up. And if you have an acute conscience for all those instances where people have flaked on you, but have a half-inch callus on your heart with regard to all the bags you have left others holding, then that means you are not qualified to give to the new sanctuary. You may not. Leave your gift right where it is, and go arrange payments with your brother first.

So let the stones cry out.

The Actual Inconsistency

God tells us in His Word that as His people we are to come out from the world, and to be separate from it. This separation, this distinction, is what holiness means. To be holy is to be set apart.

The fundamental point of holiness is to have God make a distinction in His people between righteous living, and lives of corruption. “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you” (2 Cor. 6:17).

We can also make something holy by setting it apart from common use—we wouldn’t use a communion tray as a cake platter at a church potluck, for example. But even this kind of thing is simply an audio-visual help, enabling us to understand the difference between sin and righteousness. David ate the showbread, and it would be lawful and right for us to use the communion trays in some sort of comparable emergency.

Just as the altar sanctifies the gold, and not the other way around, so also, the physical accoutrements of worship are sanctified by our actual worship, proceeding from our actual realization of a humble and contrite heart. All of this applies most forcefully, most centrally, when we are contemplating the construction of a sanctuary.

We want a place that reminds us of the inconsistency between a house of worship Sunday morning, and a time of loose living Saturday night. That loose living can take many forms—raunchy movies, corrupt friends, ungodly parties, envious snark and complaining, and all the rest of that unsightly crew. So when our sanctuary is built, we want you to come into it prepared to reason in a “how much more” fashion. As this place seems inconsistent with the movie I watched last night, how much more is it inconsistent with the presence of Christ’s Holy Spirit in my heart, hands, mouth and life?

So let the stones cry out.

The Pride Part

Pride is a protean thing, a true shape shifter. Whenever a creature desires to believe in his own superiority, this is a desire that can be projected onto anything. When it comes to the erection of buildings and sanctuaries, we can take aesthetic pride in the beauty of what we have done, or economic pride in the efficiency of what we have done, or moralistic pride in the humility of what we have done, and so on down the line.

But the problem with pride is the pride part, not the accomplishment part.

God put us into the world to accomplish things, and we are to be grateful to Him when He enables us to do these things. But when we veer off into pride, we can take pride in having done what God gave us to do, or we can take pride in doing something else instead. The problem is the heart attitude, always.

Keep On Keeping On

When God established His church in the first century, there were a number of unique things about it. The surrounding world was overwhelmingly pagan, and so the burgeoning Christian movement had to make certain decisions about priorities. The first thing that happened after Pentecost was not a building campaign. Neither was it a political movement. The initial explosion of conversions was followed by a century more of evangelism. The Christians met in all kinds of ad hoc circumstances. The catacombs are justly famous, but the New Testament also records multiple times how believers would met for worship in homes (e.g. Col. 4:15).

By the second century, the number of Christians was much greater, and almost from the beginning they challenged the pagan establishment on a number of issues. The Christians were adamantly pro-life, and rebuked the pagan tolerance of abortion and infanticide. If you want paganism without an attendant contempt for life at the margins, you want something that has never existed. The Christians modeled a different approach to compassion during plagues and epidemics, shaming the pagans by their compassion for others. The Christians also opposed the gladiatorial games. Killjoys from the beginning.

The same kind of thing happened with church buildings. We did not build the living stones structure because we had all these attractive brick and mortar buildings. It was the other way around. Life, community, fellowship, love, discipline, care for one another, are all the ways you build the actual church. When you have done that, it is time to move on and make an institutional declaration, one that challenges the principalities and powers. But if we are not doing it from homes, and gyms, and open air meetings, we are not going to do it when we have a nice, respectable place. When we get a nice sanctuary, we must always remember what got us to that place—and keep on doing it.

So let the stones cry out.

A Refuge for Honesty

In his great psalm of confession, the psalmist says that he has acknowledged his sin to God, and goes on to say that he had not hidden his iniquity (Ps. 32:5). Because we live in a world full of sin, and because we as God’s people live our lives here, when we come to church one of two things must happen. Either we will come to understand our sin and deal with it properly, or we will come here to hide it.

Hospitals are institutions dedicated to health, but they are not places where we go to enjoy and celebrate how healthy we are. You do not go to the doctor in order to lie to him about all your symptoms. What would be the point?

The assembly of the church is a similar kind of thing. We want to come here for a genuine encounter with God, and this means that we must not come here in order to hide our iniquity. He knows about it already. He knows far more about it than we do. He knows everything there is to know about it. He knows when we come to church and do not confess our sins honestly at the beginning of the service. He knows when we move through the rest of the service pretending that we didn’t track in what He knows we tracked in.

When we do this kind of thing, we demonstrate that we are not really worshiping God, but rather are worshiping the good opinion of our fellows.

And this is why our steeple is going to have a cross on top of it. We erect that symbol because we want our town to know, and we want to constantly remind ourselves, that we have been called to a life of virtue by grace. And because it is virtue by grace, the foundational virtue that the grace of God cultivates in us is honesty. And that is how this building needs to be built—as a refuge for honesty.

So let the stones cry out.

Ichabod Memorial

When Solomon dedicated the Temple, one of the things that happened is that the glory of God filled the Temple, such that the priests could not even go in (2 Chron. 7:1-2). When Moses communed with the Lord at the door of the tabernacle, God appeared there in a pillar of glory (Ex. 33:9). When Jesus was transfigured on the mountain, He together with Peter, James, and John were enveloped by a bright cloud of glory (Matt. 17:5).

Now it is important to remember this because we are seeking to build a church building that speaks of the glory of God, and we want it to speak about glory truthfully. I say this because glory is not something that fossilizes. When the Spirit departs, the glory departs, and the church building becomes Ichabod Memorial.

What will protect us? How will God deliver us? This is a folly that has ensnared many. Our preservation is in the name of the Lord, and the name of the Lord is only revealed through the gospel. The name of the Lord is revealed through the folly of preaching Christ crucified. We declare that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, and that Jesus, the God/man lived a perfect and sinless human life, on our behalf, and that He was slain on a cross, and His blood ran down. When His blood ran down, it was for the cleansing of all His people, and, good to His Word, after He rose from the dead, He applied that blood—your only hope—to the great altar in the heavenlies. And from that place, He prays for you, and He prays for you by name. He prays for this congregation, by name. Our task is to echo His praying, which is what it means to pray in His name.

So let us always glory in that gospel. Let us never exchange the glory of God for a fog of nuance. When Christians get nice things, like a building, they frequently get above themselves. The folly of God is wiser than men, and so our task is always to follow His folly, and not our own wisdom. And that means the cross.